Statewide Plan Based on CUNY’s

January 9, 2008 | CUNY Matters Columns

On Dec. 17, 2007, the New York State Commission on Higher Education released its preliminary recommendations to Governor Eliot Spitzer. My colleagues on the commission and I worked diligently to propose bold ideas to reinvigorate serious investment in the state’s public universities. New York’s citizens, students, and faculty deserve public universities whose stature is nationally recognized, whose programs are highly valued, and whose graduates are deeply respected. This is increasingly essential in today’s competitive global environment.

Quite simply, new and real investment in CUNY and SUNY is a necessity for New York State.

A cornerstone of the commission’s report is the call for a New York State Compact for Public Higher Education. Modeled after the CUNY Compact, the statewide compact delineates shared responsibility for public higher education resources in order to reverse chronic underinvestment in CUNY and SUNY. As the University has affirmed since introducing its compact two years ago, a partnership among stakeholders is critical to generating the resources necessary for true investment.

Prior to the CUNY Compact, funding for public higher education in New York was determined on a year-to-year basis. This discouraged long-term investment and made public universities vulnerable to economic downturns. Students were hurt when large, unexpected tuition increases were used to cover operating expenses unmet by insufficient public funding.

The New York State Compact for Public Higher Education would require government to cover CUNY’s and SUNY’s mandatory costs, such as energy and labor contracts, and at least 20 percent of the academic initiatives in the systems’ state-approved master plans. The remainder of the funding for invest-ments comes from the universities, in the form of increased philanthropic revenues, internal restructuring and efficiency measures, managed enrollment growth and tuition increases. Tuition increases during the life of a master plan would not exceed an amount informed by a basket of economic indicators (such as the Consumer Price Index or the Higher Education Price Index), and full financial aid for needy students is a critical part of the compact. Revenue from tuition increases would go exclusively toward funding investment initiatives, determined in consultation with students, faculty and elected representatives.

As CUNY’s experience with the compact model indicates, such a partnership stimulates renewed investment. In its first year, CUNY Compact funding allowed the University’s senior and community colleges to hire additional faculty. It helped the University to launch its Graduate School of Journalism and its School of Professional Studies. Millions of dollars were invested to expand technology in teaching, including science instrumentation and electronic library acquisitions, and to augment student services, including additional counseling staff, child care, veterans’ support, and student fellowships. We upgraded information management systems and purchased new computer hardware and software. A statewide compact based on the CUNY model is an important step in realizing public higher education’s plans to build universities of national renown.

The commission also recognizes the key role that faculty play in creating academic distinction. Its recommendation to rebuild the CUNY and SUNY faculty ranks through the hiring of a minimum of 2,000 additional full-time faculty over the next five years is crucial to achieving genuine progress. In 1975, CUNY employed more than 11,000 full-time faculty. Today, 6,500 full-time faculty work at the University. This is a decrease of more than 40%—even though CUNY’s student enrollment has grown to its highest level in over three decades. The commission’s recommendation would help to reverse this pronounced decline.

Indeed, the top priority of the University’s FY 2008-09 budget request, recently approved by the Board of Trustees, is the hiring of additional full-time faculty and providing support for research, academic enhancements and student services. The University seeks a major infusion of investment funds through a continuation of the CUNY Compact, funds that are essential to our ability to foster national prominence and ensure greater opportunities for students and faculty.

The commission’s recommendations—focused on serious investment, increased faculty, student access and preparation, innovative research and economic development—are an urgent call to enable CUNY and SUNY and their students to remain nationally competitive and to contribute to the state’s well-being. We owe the students and people of New York nothing less.

I urge you to visit www.supportcuny.org to find out how to contact public officials and become involved in Universitywide advocacy efforts. This critical opportunity to invest in CUNY must not be missed.