March 10, 2006 | CUNY Matters Columns
Across the country and in New York State, from organizations as diverse as the National Academies and the Business Council of New York State, an urgent call has gone out for an increase in the participation and proficiency of students in postsecondary education, particularly in the areas of science, math, and engineering. National and state leaders alike have recognized the need for a strong, educated workforce to maintain economic and social growth. As Governor Pataki noted in his 2006 Budget Address, “If we wish to remain competitive in the emerging high-tech, global economy of tomorrow, it’s imperative that we continue to invest in higher education today.” More than ever, public higher education has a critical role in the state’s well-being.
The current funding model for public higher education in New York State, however, has serious limitations. Increasingly, as public funding lags, tuition is used to cover operating expenses. Public institutions are faced with a dilemma. Students should not be asked to carry a continually increasing share of operating costs. It is also unrealistic to expect the State and City of New York to be the sole providers of our escalating needs, given the costs associated with K-12 education, health care, and energy requirements.
In addition, operating budget funding is currently determined on a year-to-year basis. When there is an economic downturn, and government funding is tight, we see large tuition increases–just at a time when students and their families, also feeling the effects of a bad economy, can least afford it. The year-to-year model discourages long-range investment in public higher education–the kind that could address the long-range needs spelled out every four years in the Master Plans both CUNY and SUNY are required by State law to develop. These Master Plans are endorsed by the State’s Board of Regents, but there has been little funding to support academic priorities.
Unless we take steps to increase public support, keep tuition manageable, create new revenue sources within our universities, and aggressively seek external partnerships, the promise of equal opportunity that is at the heart of public higher education will erode.
These funding realities are particularly distressing because they do not recognize the great strides CUNY has made in the last several years. The University has recorded its highest enrollment in 30 years while raising academic standards, admitting better-prepared students, and enrolling substantially more students from select public high schools. Last year alone, we hired more than 300 faculty members. Our Graduate School of Journalism will open in Fall 2006. Our alumni are joining our efforts, as demonstrated most recently by Intel co-founder Andrew Grove’s $26 million gift to his alma mater, City College. As David Ward, the president of the American Council on Education, recently noted, “Those of us considering examples of successful management and enhanced academic quality in American higher education would certainly include CUNY among the top institutions on the list.”
Without a very different funding approach, CUNY’s ability to serve its students and achieve the initiatives outlined in its Master Plan will be threatened. That’s why I have proposed a new way to finance CUNY: a shared compact among funding partners, including the State and City, the University, its alumni and friends, and its students.
This investment plan asks the State and the City to cover the University’s mandatory costs (such as energy and labor contracts) and 20 percent of the programmatic initiatives in the University’s four-year Master Plan. The rest of the funding would come from the University side, in the form of increased philanthropic revenues; internal redeployment; managed enrollment growth; and modest tuition increases, not to exceed the Higher Education Price Index over the life of the plan. Revenue from the increased tuition would go exclusively toward funding programmatic initiatives in the Master Plan, with recommendations from CUNY students and faculty.
CUNY’s Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the budget investment plan, and CUNY’s Business Leadership Council has endorsed the compact as the best way to sustain CUNY’s academic and financial vibrancy. As the Chair of the Business Leadership Council, Sy Sternberg, Chairman and CEO of New York Life Insurance Company, said, “I believe that the proposed plan will establish the foundation for the next level of success at CUNY.”
The 2006-2007 State Executive Budget provides important recognition of the CUNY Compact, described by Governor Pataki as “an innovative and fiscally responsible approach to financing operations by delineating shared responsibility among partners and creating opportunities to leverage funds.” Right now, the University is working closely with the State and the City of New York to realize the plan’s potential.
Every day, the University’s faculty and staff demonstrate their commitment to providing the best education possible to “the whole people.” Through an innovative partnership, we can continue to strengthen that critical mission, to the betterment of all New Yorkers.