City Budget Testimony

March 16, 2007 | News from the Chancellor, Speeches and Testimony

Good morning, Chairperson Weprin and Chairperson Barron, members of the Finance and Higher Education committees, staff, and guests. Thank you for the opportunity to testify here today about The City University of New York and the FY 2008 Preliminary Budget. All of us at CUNY appreciate your strong and enduring advocacy of CUNY and public higher education; we look forward to working with the Council to ensure the continued progress you and the rest of the city have come to expect from us.

With your support, CUNY has accomplished much toward meeting its academic goals. In the years since our first meeting, CUNY has evolved from a system that consistently received harsh criticism, both fair and unfair. Today, we are an integrated university that is flourishing on numerous levels. Let me highlight just a few such areas:

  • Enrollment: CUNY’s enrollment stands at its highest level in over 31 years. We continue to prove that raising academic standards results in our attracting and keeping more students on our campuses–students who are better prepared for the rigors of postsecondary education and then, for the complex challenges of a 21st-century global workplace, and students who come to us, increasingly from select public high schools.
  • New faculty: By the end of FY 2007, CUNY’s full-time faculty will, we expect, have increased by 1000, or 18%, since FY 1999. Our efforts to recruit the most talented and diverse faculty we can locate to our campuses continue. Consistent with CUNY’s ongoing “Decade of Science” initiative, we are working quite strenuously to include among those new hires significant numbers of superior teachers in the STEM disciplines of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics.
  • Student services: Two elements of our student services deserve special mention here. First, with help from Mayor Bloomberg’s Center for Economic Opportunity, we have launched a new program: ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs), intended to help our community college students from low income backgrounds and working poor adults reach a timely graduation, equipped with the skills they need. Second, we have increased our services for veterans at CUNY, particularly those returning from service in Iraq and Afghanistan. Veterans, who are often immigrants or children or immigrants and come from modest economic backgrounds, rely on CUNY’s support to overcome educational, financial, and other obstacles as they pursue a high-quality college education. I encourage you to visit a new Web site dedicated to these services for our veterans, www.cuny.edu/veterans.
  • Teacher Academy: Our new Teacher Academy, a partnership with the New York City Department of Education, is now training high-achieving students in mathematics and the sciences to become teachers who have committed to returning to New York City classrooms to teach after graduation. We thank Chancellor Joel I. Klein for his support with this endeavor.
  • Black Male Initiative: Thanks to the work of our University Task Force on the Black Male Initiative, and to the funding you restored to us last year, we have accomplished a great deal in our efforts to increase, encourage, and support the inclusion and educational success of one of the most under-represented groups in higher education: black males. Two University-sponsored conferences within the past year have addressed these issues, and the recent addition of Elliott Dawes to our CUNY community as BMI Director brings the Initiative added expertise and energy.
  • Graduate School of Journalism: The new CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, led by former Business Week Editor, Stephen Shepard, opened its doors this fall. We are immensely proud of CUNY’s important role in training journalists here in our own city, the world’s media capital.
  • SPS/Online Baccalaureate: The CUNY School of Professional Studies (SPS) continues to create programs to serve the private sector, government, and nonprofit organizations. It meets the needs of individuals working in all fields, at all stages of their careers, who must constantly learn new skills. This fall, SPS also launched the University’s first online baccalaureate program, mobilizing the deep interest and talents of many of our faculty in developing courses and programs given in an online format.
  • Philanthropy: Our focus on rigor, renewal, and renaissance has encouraged some extraordinary philanthropy. Alumni and other friends of the University continue to show their support for our progress, as demonstrated most recently by William E. Macaulay’s $30 million gift–the largest in CUNY’s history–which will fund the purchase a new home for our Honors College. We are also most fortunate to have received $10 million from the New York Life Foundation. These funds have been designated for use at the Colin Powell Center for Policy Studies at City College, where an Endowment for Emerging African American Issues will support scholarships, internships, and the development of a new curriculum focused on public policy issues relating to the African American community.

These accomplishments have required the efforts of the entire University. CUNY’s Board of Trustees, the college presidents and other administrators and staff, and, of course, our accomplished faculty, students, and alumni must share the credit. But we are not resting yet. The goals enumerated in the University’s state-approved 2004-2008 Master Plan remain priorities throughout CUNY. These include: having 70 percent of instruction provided by full-time professors; enhancing our research environment with facilities, equipment, and support for cutting-edge scholarship; and providing the best academic opportunities to challenge every student.

Not surprisingly, then, our six community colleges occupy a key role in CUNY’s future. These colleges have recorded a 12.1 percent increase in new students from 2002 to 2006 and are managing the programs and services needed to support and educate our students. Over the past year we have also added 120 full-time faculty to our community college campuses to broaden and deepen our academic offerings.

But meeting the needs of our burgeoning student population remains a significant challenge. The City Preliminary Budget for FY 2008 recommends city support for the community colleges of $181.6 million, which is $6.1 million less than the recommended FY 2007 budget. At a time when the University remains more focused than ever on growth, long-term investment, and continued academic renewal, we find this proposed reduction particularly discouraging.

As you will recall, last year CUNY recommended a fresh approach to financing long-term investment in the University: the CUNY Compact. The Compact calls for funding to be shared by the state and the city; the University (through internal efficiencies); philanthropic sources; and students, through managed enrollment growth and modest, predictable tuition increases. The plan asks the state and the city to commit to fully funding the University’s mandatory costs and a portion of the programmatic priorities in our academic plan. Any increased tuition revenue would go exclusively toward funding the CUNY investment initiatives–with recommendations from CUNY students and faculty–as would the philanthropic dollars and resources from internal efficiencies.

Our Board of Trustees unanimously adopted the Compact, and its approach has earned widespread praise. It offers a sensible strategy to match our long-term academic plan to a long-term financial plan.

To this end we must emphasize that increased city support for CUNY’s community colleges through the compact remains critical to the University. Only with the city’s continued investment in public higher education at CUNY can we continue to trigger investments from other sources; only if the city sustains public higher education as a public priority can we expect other partners to do the same. Our students, faculty, staff, alumni, friends, and business partners have demonstrated renewed and generous support of the University, but we cannot expect them to shoulder a disproportionate share of funding this public urban institution.

Thus we must address the Preliminary Budget’s recommended $14.6 million reduction in the community colleges’ operating budget. This reduction strikes a serious blow to our community colleges’ core operations. It shrinks their capacity to offer classes when our students–many of whom come from the working poor–need them, and it limits their ability to increase the percentage of instruction taught by full-time faculty.

We are also deeply concerned about the proposed reductions of $11.2 million for the Peter F. Vallone City Council Scholarships and $4.5 million for the New York City Council Safety Net Program. These reductions would eliminate both programs. The loss of funding for the Vallone Scholarships and the Safety Net Program comes as we have increasing numbers of students depending on precisely these sources of financial assistance.

Let us consider for a moment, in more detail, the Vallone Scholarships. Given to students who graduated with a B average from New York City high schools and who maintain that B average at the University, these scholarships encourage high-achieving young people to stay in New York City to continue their education. We are pleased to have a number of these talented young people–current Vallone Scholars–present at this hearing today.

Since 1998, a total of about $80 million has been disbursed in Vallone Scholarship funding, distributed among 116,000 awards to students. By awarding these scholarships we have sent a clear message to New York City young people and their families. We have made concrete the assurance that their city supports them. These awards demonstrate, in a tangible way, that their city will make it possible continue to pursue an excellent postsecondary education right here at home. During the academic year 2005-06 alone, more than 11,000 CUNY students received Vallone Scholarships.

Also in 2005-06, more than 15,000 of our most needy community college students received funding from the Safety Net Program, helping them to continue their advanced studies at CUNY. Losing this program would create an enormous burden on our most vulnerable students. Our recommendation targets those who are most deserving of help, often those who are already affected by federal financial aid policies that frequently favor loans rather than grants. Our first priority must be to protect qualified students who cannot afford to attend college.

To repeat a message I expressed when I first proposed CUNY’s compact: This partnership will work only if our most needy students are held out of harm’s way–that is, if their financial assistance protects them from even modest tuition increases. We simply must strengthen our commitment to scholarship and assistance programs if we are to maintain the promise of educational opportunity upon which so many CUNY students–and so many children of New York–depend.

I must also note, regretfully, that the Preliminary Budget eliminates funding for important initiatives across the University, including the Black Male Initiative, which, as I mentioned earlier, has made impressive strides thanks in significant part to last year’s restored funding; the CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project, which continues to serve not only our own faculty and students but communities throughout the city as well; and many others. These programs and centers serve thousands of students, faculty, and residents of New York City. They provide much-needed opportunities, often for those from underserved populations, to gain access to advanced study and career development. We ask, quite simply, that their funding be restored.

We also request a $7.3 million enhancement, the largest portion of which will be used to fund student services improvements at the community colleges. It will offer operational support for child care, health services, women’s centers, outreach to uninsured students, and other resource programs. We know that it is often these vital programs that enable students to complete their studies in a timely way. Funds will also support the hiring of additional full-time faculty and staff in the student services area. Other portions of enhancement funds will strengthen and expand two programs whose success I’ve already mentioned: the Black Male Initiative and the Immigration Project.

On the capital side, the University remains grateful for its first multi-year appropriation from the city. We remember that your support and recommendations were very influential in the mayor’s decision to make that important appropriation, and we thank you, again, for your work on the University’s behalf.

As you know, we received multi-year appropriations from the state in 1998 and 2003 for the community colleges and Medgar Evers College. These commitments to five-year capital plans allow the University to plan and implement building projects with certainty, something that is not possible when funding assurances are limited to the existing budget year. Additionally, we greatly appreciate the support CUNY receives each year through appropriations directly from the City Council and Borough Presidents.

At this time, the capital program for the community colleges and Medgar Evers College totals $600 million, comprising both state and city funding. Even with this substantial program, however, the colleges’ capital needs are not met. In particular, we need $37.5 million to complete two specific projects: the replacement of Fiterman Hall for Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and the construction of Academic Building I at Medgar Evers College. These additional funds are necessary to address higher estimates for the cost of demolition and hazardous materials abatement at Fiterman Hall–which we are removing in very controlled increments–and to address cost escalations impacting the construction industry, further exacerbated by the effects of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita and the reconstruction efforts in the Gulf region.

Our request also includes $12.8 million that will be distributed across the community colleges for projects at the campuses, including the first phase of mechanical/infrastructure upgrades at Bronx Community College and continuing CUNY-wide corrections of health and safety deficiencies identified in the Building Condition Assessment survey conducted in the 1990s.

Quite simply, we need city funding to move forward on these projects. Our community colleges and Medgar Evers College serve nearly 52,000 full-time equivalent students in 113 buildings comprising more than 7.1 million gross square feet. It’s no surprise that physical plants of such size require substantial commitments for their maintenance.

We at CUNY are grateful for the support we receive from the city. But let us remember that CUNY repays this investment on a day-to-day basis with an array of public services. Its comprehensive citizenship and immigration outreach program surpasses anything offered by any university in the United States, including offering immigration and naturalization services on our campuses and providing free immigration advice through the annual CUNY/Daily News Citizenship Now! Call-In. Through the CUNY/311 Project our students work as part-time call center representatives within the city’s Citizen Service Center. Students from our accounting programs provide the vast majority of the volunteer corps assisting low-income city residents through the Department of Consumer Affairs’ EITC (Earned Income Tax Credit) seminars. Our university continues to register more new voters than all other city agencies combined. And these are just a few examples of the public service the university performs for the benefit of our fellow New Yorkers. In keeping with the concepts of compact and partnership, we envision ourselves as sustaining a collaborative and mutually supportive relationship with the city.

Chairperson Barron, Chairperson Weprin, members of the committees (and of course, Speaker Quinn), we deeply appreciate all you have done to assist us in fulfilling our mission in the past, and we look forward to continuing to build on our productive partnership. Thank you.