January 30, 2008 | Speeches and Testimony
Good morning, Chairperson Farrell and Chairperson Johnson, members of the Ways and Means and Finance committees, staff, and guests. Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about The City University of New York and the 2008-09 State Executive Budget Proposal. (Listen to the audio)
Over the past several months, I have been privileged to serve as a member of the New York State Commission on Higher Education, along with Senator LaValle and Assemblymember Glick, which was called together by executive order of Governor Spitzer. I must begin this morning by commending the governor for the creation of the commission. His desire for bold recommendations to improve higher education in the state, especially within its public systems, signals the importance of our colleges and universities to the future of New York State and reinforces the critical role of government in developing public systems of national repute.
The commission’s preliminary report offers a historic opportunity for this state. The report is crystal clear on two points: one, New York’s system of higher education has not kept pace with many of the leading public universities. And two, SUNY and CUNY have a chronic problem: too little revenue, too little investment, and too much regulation.
This is our time to set a new course. This is the time to strengthen CUNY and SUNY. This is the time to develop generations of graduates who will lead New York in every sector, from the technological to the cultural. This is the time to stimulate the state’s information economy through first-rate public universities. It has taken a great deal of courage and hard work–particularly by this legislature and this University–to move CUNY forward over the last several years. You have reason to take great pride in CUNY’s achievements. Here are a few examples:
* Graduates of the CUNY School of Law achieved a first-time bar pass rate of 82.75% on the July 2007 New York State Bar Exam, the highest pass rate in the history of the school and a dramatic improvement from last year’s 77% rate and the 50% rate in 2002. It was also higher than the statewide average of 79.1% for first-time bar exam test-takers. The school also just received membership in the Association of American Law Schools (AALS), joining 160 other law schools that have attained membership standing through a rigorous review process.
* CUNY has seen a six-year increase in the passage rate of nursing graduates on the National Council Licensure Examination from 72% to 86%. CUNY’s teacher-education students have posted six-year increases in the passage rate on the state’s Liberal Arts and Sciences Test from 88% to 98%.
* The University has also seen improved performance on the CUNY Proficiency Exam, which every student must pass in order to continue beyond 60 credits, with the passage rate climbing from 88.4% in Fall 2003 to 91.4% in Fall 2006.
* CUNY faculty continue to win major national and international awards, as detailed in our new “Salute to Scholars” publication, which has been distributed to you.
Today, we are poised to take the next steps in building our universities to national renown. The recommendations in the commission’s preliminary report will help both CUNY and SUNY position themselves to do the things they are now capable of doing.
As detailed in the Executive Budget, Governor Spitzer’s proposed $4 billion endowment for the state’s public university systems addresses the need for true investment in order to cultivate world-class faculty and research. Developing funding streams that we can depend on for investment remains a priority for the University. Without stabilized funding sources, planning is a guessing game and real investment is impossible. If, collectively, we are serious about building our public systems to the stature they deserve, there is no other way than to start the needed investment now.
Unfortunately, the Executive Budget does not provide for any investment dollars in support of the University’s Master Plan. Nor does the budget increase provide for the appropriation authority to generate investment dollars via a 5 percent increase in tuition. The University’s budget request seeks $21.4 million in increased state support, and $33.2 million in revenues from a tuition increase, for a total of $54.6 million to finance an investment program in FY2009. This budget provides for neither.
The University shares the concerns about the economic challenges the state faces. Indeed, as we have seen in the past, it is often during difficult economic times that CUNY experiences increased pressure on enrollments, as New Yorkers look to re-tool their skills and advance or change their careers. Our public colleges and universities are key institutions in helping the state maintain financial stability during economic fluctuations.
To that end, the investment initiatives in CUNY’s budget request emphasize full-time faculty and research. Building business and industry and a highly skilled workforce throughout the state starts with building a strong faculty in the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) and supplying the staff and instrumentation they need.
This request complements the commission’s recommendation to hire at least 2,000 additional full-time faculty at CUNY and SUNY over the next five years, including 250 eminent scholars. This is vital to the advancement of both systems. 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 percent, despite the fact that our student enrollment has grown to its highest level in over three decades.
Full-time faculty who are teaching and mentoring students, building academic programs, conducting cutting-edge research, and participating in the governance of the University are the essential core of any academic institution. CUNY is working toward its goal of having 70 percent of its instruction taught by full-time faculty. But as both faculty retirements and student enrollments increase, we must redouble our efforts if we are to build up our faculty ranks.
In addition, the commission recommends the creation of an Empire State Innovation Fund to provide grants for research in the physical sciences, bioscience, engineering, and medicine at both public and private institutions. As we have articulated through CUNY’s Decade of Science initiative, only robust and high-level participation in the sciences will stimulate greater competitiveness by the state, and by the state’s students, in today’s global environment. Just a couple of weeks ago, the National Science Board, in its biennial report on science and engineering, declared that the United States’ leadership in scientific and technological innovation is threatened by economic development in other parts of the world, especially in Asia. The board recommended increased and sustained investment financing for basic and applied research.
At the same time that we build investment to stabilize funding for higher education and advance CUNY’s stature, we must also focus on urgent needs that require immediate attention.
Primary among these are the facilities that allow our faculty and students to do their best work. The commission’s recommendation of a sustained program of capital reinvestment in CUNY and SUNY goes to the very heart of this important need. CUNY’s campuses comprise more than 290 buildings. The average building is about 50 years old. Meanwhile, enrollment at CUNY is at its highest level since 1975, at more than 232,000 students. As our enrollment increases, so does the strain on these aging facilities. Addressing the backlog of critical maintenance at the University not only prevents the long-term expenses that result from deferrals but also enhances research and instruction well into the future.
CUNY’s capital budget request is a five-year, $8 billion plan that carefully prioritizes projects to ensure health, safety, security, preservation, code compliance, and energy conservation, as well as projects to support our Decade of Science initiative. These include the CUNY-wide Advanced Science Research Center, the City College New Science Facility–scheduled for construction this fall–and science facility projects at Lehman, Brooklyn, and Queens colleges. It also supports our CUNY FIRST initiative to enable the University to develop unified data systems across the campuses and significantly improve our efficiency in managing student information, human resources data, and fiscal operations.
The Executive Budget recommends a new five-year, $2.8 billion capital investment plan for CUNY. Of the $2.58 billion recommended for our senior colleges, $960 million would go to strategic priorities–the vast majority of which would be used to complete existing projects–and $284 million would be appropriated annually for critical maintenance, for a five-year total of $1.4 billion. For our community colleges, the Executive Budget recommends $260 million for facilities improvements, which must be matched by the City of New York.
We are grateful that the Executive Budget recognizes the importance of safe, up-to-date facilities to the University’s advancement. I must emphasize, however, that our capital needs are extensive and, in many cases, urgent, particularly at our community colleges. We are very pleased that the city recently funded projects under way at Bronx Community College and Medgar Evers College, and we will continue to discuss our community college capital needs with the city during its budget process this spring. Critical maintenance projects, technology upgrades, and energy conservation projects are necessary at almost every campus. In fact, the commission pointed out that increased energy conservation will have a sustained impact on the state’s future, and a relatively modest investment in this area can lead to significant payoffs. Science laboratories and instrumentation, as well as increased classroom space, are needed by faculty whose teaching and research are challenged by insufficient or inefficient facilities. Without enhanced capital funding, our colleges will fall further behind in the necessary maintenance of their campuses. Every day of deferral increases the cost of meeting those required needs.
Urgent needs must also be addressed on the operating side of our budget. I was pleased to hear Governor Spitzer speak of the need to invest in the state’s community colleges during his presentation of the Executive Budget. CUNY’s Board of Trustees approved a $200-per-student increase in the University’s budget request. The need is clear. CUNY’s six community colleges currently serve more than 76,000 students, an increase of 12 percent since 2002 and of 3.7 percent in the last year alone. More and more students are seeking the high-quality educational and professional opportunities our community colleges provide, and the governor, in concert with the Commission on Higher Education, recognizes their central role in building the state’s highly skilled workforce.
For our community colleges, the Executive Budget increases support by $2.1 million in recognition of growing enrollment and provides for $2.7 million in much-needed rental aid for Borough of Manhattan Community College. However, as is the case with the senior colleges, this budget does not include funding in support of investment.
In fact, the Executive Budget proposes a reduction in student base operating aid for CUNY’s community colleges by $50 per student. Such a reduction would significantly hinder investment efforts at these six colleges. We ask much of our community colleges: we expect them to provide new programs to meet market and workforce demands, to work closely with business and industry to support economic development, to offer expanded academic and student support, and to create additional courses and sections as enrollments grow. Our community colleges must be nimble in order to be effective, but they can only do so with adequate support.
For our senior colleges, the Executive Budget includes a net increase of $35.9 million in state support. This number reflects an increase of $52.7 million to cover the University’s mandatory inflationary cost increases. In addition, the budget includes $1.0 million in state support for the expansion of nursing programs.
However, the Executive Budget also calls for a 2.5 percent, or $16.7 million, reduction in the operating budget of CUNY’s senior colleges, to be achieved through efficiencies. Through the CUNY Compact, the University’s financing vehicle, we began, and continue to put in place, a series of successful productivity and efficiency measures.
As all of you know, we believe that a rigorous, seamless K-16 program is essential to the state’s well-being. To that end, the University has been a steadfast supporter of a strong K-12 system. We have developed a comprehensive and highly successful collaboration with the New York City Department of Education to increase the number, and success, of students who pursue a college education.
The University provides extraordinary resources to support these programs to better prepare students for college work, including facilities, access to faculty and staff, support services, and space on our overcrowded campuses. Yet the public resources for K-12 education and higher education are vastly different. I believe that they must be aligned if we are serious about creating a seamless system that offers every student the opportunity to access a college education.
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 effectively generates increased investment.
In just its first year, CUNY Compact funding allowed the University 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 in technology, including science instrumentation and electronic library acquisitions, and in student services, such as additional counseling staff, child care, veterans’ support, and student fellowships. The only way we have been able to make progress on these and the other goals in our Master Plan is through the increased investment revenue generated by the compact model.
As you know, the compact’s partnership comprises state and local governments; the University, through productivity and efficiency measures; the University’s friends and donors; and the University’s students, through modest tuition increases. This year, CUNY is recommending a 5 percent tuition increase. State operating aid was not provided in 2007-08 to cover last year’s proposed increase, so this year’s recommendation is the equivalent of two 2.5 percent increases, consistent with the Higher Education Price Index. For resident undergraduate students, this is a per-semester increase of $100 at the senior colleges and $70 at the community colleges.
This recommendation is not made lightly. We recognize that even small increases impact our students. Nothing less than the University’s commitment to build the very best academic experience for our students impels our recommendation. It is also important to emphasize that the CUNY Compact requires that any tuition increase be accompanied by two principles. First, full student financial aid will be maintained; no student in need of financial assistance will be put in harm’s way. Second, revenue from the increased tuition would go exclusively toward funding the University’s investment initiatives.
The CUNY Compact was created in part to avoid the large, unexpected tuition increases–often the result of economic downturns–that our students have been burdened with in the past. As we have witnessed, deferring a modest increase one year can have devastating consequences in future years. Without a rational, predictable tuition policy, we will not be insulated from the large increases that unfairly target students. The future funding stability of the University depends on a rational tuition policy.
Our investment program prioritizes enhanced services for students. In order to give every student the best opportunity for success, we are proposing an increase in student counselors, including mental health counselors, career counselors, and financial aid counselors. We are also focusing on simplifying and encouraging financial aid applications by emphasizing more face-to-face advisement and better integration of all of the financial aid resources and information available to students. And to ensure that our students are fully prepared for the opportunities and challenges the job market holds, we propose to invest in our career services area, offering an expanded staff with experience and expertise in particular markets.
Two items recommended for funding eliminations in the Executive Budget also require our immediate consideration. The first is the $652,000 legislative add-on for the SEEK program. As you know, the University’s Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge program assists students at our senior colleges who might not otherwise be able to attend college because of educational and financial circumstances. More than 8,700 students are currently enrolled. The additional academic support and counseling services they receive greatly increase their chances of success. In fact, at several colleges, the percentage of SEEK students passing the 2006 CUNY Proficiency Exam was higher than the pass rate for regularly admitted students. Like all of our students, SEEK participants benefit from an investment in full-time faculty and support services.
The second item is $500,000 in legislative funding for the Joseph S. Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies. Previously located at Queens College, the institute achieved University-wide designation in 2005. Since then, student enrollment in the institute’s credit programs has already increased by more than 50 percent and several new certificate programs and workforce development initiatives have been created. The expanded scope of the institute has allowed it to reach a far greater range and number of working adults. Ongoing support for the institute is critical to its ability to continue to meet the city’s workforce development needs.
We are also very encouraged by the governor’s proposal to cover tuition costs for returning combat veterans, which complements the comprehensive, and growing, array of veterans programs CUNY offers.
Chairperson Johnson and Chairperson Farrell, and members of the Senate and Assembly, I believe that today there is a great sense of optimism and anticipation about public higher education across New York State. I believe we now have an opportunity to advance modern universities throughout the state that are nationally and internationally renowned. As I know you recall, last year the additional avails at the higher education conference committee table was $44 million for all of the higher education sectors. Surely you will agree that this investment fell short of the higher education needs of our state. A genuine investment will require fresh approaches and bold action.
We deeply appreciate all you have done to assist CUNY in offering our students the excellent educational experiences they need and deserve. We very much look forward to working in partnership with you to take the next steps in positioning CUNY, and New York State, for a very competitive future. Thank you.