2008 City Preliminary Budget Testimony

March 14, 2008 | Speeches and Testimony

Good morning, Chairperson Barron and members of the committee. Let me begin by thanking you for your longstanding support of the University and its students. This morning, I am pleased to have an opportunity to speak with you about the Mayor’s Fiscal 2009 Preliminary Budget and its effect the University, particularly on our six community colleges–Borough of Manhattan, Bronx, Hostos, Kingsborough, LaGuardia, and Queensborough–as well as Medgar Evers College, the CUNY senior college in central Brooklyn.

These seven CUNY institutions serve an enrollment of more than 82,000 degree-credit students and over 120,000 adult and continuing education students. Since 1999, CUNY’s community colleges alone have seen a 22 percent increase in enrollment. University-wide, enrollment growth continues. Our Spring 2008 enrollment reached 231,000, the highest level since 1976. Since 1999, spring enrollments–which are generally an indicator of student retention–have increased by almost 20%.

As the size of our student body rises, so does its performance. For example, CUNY’s teacher-education students, many of whom started at a CUNY community college, have posted six-year increases in the passage rate on the state’s Liberal Arts and Sciences Test from 88% to 98%. In addition, recent data regarding pass rates on the National Council Licensure Examination–the NCLEX–for the New York City metropolitan area demonstrate our nursing students’ continued success in preparing for their profession. NCLEX is a standardized exam used by state boards of nursing to determine a candidate’s readiness for entry-level nursing practice. NCLEX pass rates from 2003 to 2007 indicate that the average rate for CUNY’s community colleges and Medgar Evers College was about 84%, compared to a rate of about 81% for all other New York City nursing programs and all Westchester County nursing programs, and 79% for all Long Island nursing programs.

Over the past year, our community colleges have continued their work to encourage student success in college and in the workplace, from hiring talented new faculty members to developing new degree programs, such as the radiologic technology degree at LaGuardia Community College and the medical office assistant degree at Queensborough Community College. In addition, the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, or ASAP, developed with the city’s Center for Economic Opportunity, is now serving over 1,000 students at our community colleges, helping them attain their degrees in a timely way and move on to promising employment.

We are proud that more and more students are choosing CUNY, and that they are succeeding in their educational goals at the University. But the challenge of offering a steadily increasing number of students the first-rate educational experience they deserve is a very real one. The Department of City Planning projects a population increase for New York City of a million people by 2030. We expect an accompanying increase in the demands on our community colleges. In a fluctuating economy, New Yorkers turn to community colleges to re-tool their skills, gain new competencies, and understand the forces that are shaping their future.

A growing population vulnerable to an uncertain economy needs a firewall, something to protect against financial instability. CUNY has always been that firewall. The city has relied on the University–and its community colleges, in particula–to provide its residents with an education that offers greater financial security and professional options and to provide the city with a skilled, flexible workforce. Today, more than ever, this city needs a firewall. With your assistance, the University can continue to serve in that capacity.

However, the 2009 Preliminary Budget poses serious challenges to CUNY. Let me briefly review the past year as a prelude to describing the University’s current situation.

The Fiscal Year 2008 Adopted Budget provided almost $212 million in city support for CUNY’s community colleges. Although there was no funding provided for the programmatic initiatives outlined in the University’s budget request, all mandatory cost increases, such as collective bargaining, fringe benefits, and energy, were fully funded. In addition, $10 million was provided through the Center on Economic Opportunity for the ASAP initiative ($6.5 million) and CUNY Prep ($3.5 million).

This past fall, the mayor announced that all agencies would be subject to a 2.5% budget reduction in the current year, which for CUNY equated to $5.8 million. In order to mitigate the negative impact of these cuts, and help preserve instructional and core services to community colleges, the University identified $3 million in reductions to other city-funded University-wide programs, reducing the impact on the community colleges to $2.8 million.

This $2.8 million reduction, along with a cut of $1.5 million in CUNY’s energy budget, reduced overall city support for the community colleges in FY 2008 to $207.6 million. While mid-year reductions are always painful, of greater concern is the Fiscal Year 2009 budget for the community colleges.

The total city support for community colleges included in the FY 2009 financial plan is $183.3 million. However, in its FY 2009 budget request, the University sought a total of $225.1 million in city funds, leaving a current shortfall of $41.8 million. The largest component of this shortfall is $28.3 million in direct operating support to the community colleges, which includes all prior year reductions as well as the recent round of new cuts announced by the mayor. Based on the reduction proposals submitted by our colleges as part of the city’s PEG initiative, cuts of this magnitude would have a deep, harmful, and direct impact on our students. Allow me to cite just a few examples:

* At BMCC, the college would eliminate six full-time and 16 part-time positions, affecting areas such as continuing education, student services, and the computer center.
* At Bronx Community College, approximately 56 class sections would be eliminated, requiring an increase in average class size from 27 to 32.
* At Hostos Community College, 55 class sections would be eliminated, and evening and weekend services provided by the library, financial aid, registrar, and bursar areas would be reduced.
* At Kingsborough Community College, counseling and tutorial services would be reduced, and facility maintenance expenditures would have to be curtailed.
* At LaGuardia Community College, 117 course offerings–the equivalent of 3,276 seats–would be eliminated. Twenty part-time student peer advisor positions would also be cut.
* At Queensborough Community College, evening and weekend hours at the library would be reduced. In addition, purchases for classroom and laboratory supplies would need to be scaled back.

The FY 2009 budget also eliminates funding for Safety Net Scholarships ($4.5 million), and the Veteran’s Resource Center at LaGuardia Community College ($1 million). The mayor’s Preliminary Budget also does not provide matching funds of $2.7 million that were included in the State Executive Budget for leased space at BMCC due to the loss of Fiterman Hall.

In addition to the reductions at the community colleges, $24.3 million in funding for the senior colleges and other University-wide initiatives has been eliminated in the city’s FY 2009 budget. Included in these decreases is $11.2 million for the Peter F. Vallone City Council Scholarships and $2.5 million for the Black Male Initiative, championed by this committee. The Vallone scholarships are a vital New York City-based support vehicle to high-achieving city students, encouraging them to remain in the city for their college education. During the 2006-07 academic year alone, about 12,000 CUNY students received Vallone scholarships, and since the program’s inception in 1998, over 117,000 awards have been made to CUNY students. In addition, the Black Male Initiative has made impressive progress in its mission to support the inclusion and educational success of under-represented groups in higher education, accomplished through University-wide conferences and a distinguished speaker series, as well as programming at specific campuses, including mentoring and counseling, and seminars and workshops open to all students.

I must emphasize the importance of addressing all of these reductions. Only with city support can we continue to meet the educational needs of our increasing numbers of students. Scaling back class sections, library hours, and counseling services, as well as scholarship programs, would have a direct and detrimental impact on our students. As the test scores I noted earlier indicate, these students have made great strides, and academic, faculty, and financial support is essential to their progress.

The University also requested an additional $5.3 million in city funds for programmatic initiatives directly tied to our four-year, state-approved academic plan. These funds are needed in order to increase full-time faculty, provide additional advising and counseling, enhance services to students with disabilities and returning veterans, and expand high-needs programs. This is not a wish list. These are initiatives that comprise the very core of the University. Building a strong, stable learning environment simply must be a priority if we are to move forward. Each year of retreat chips away at the considerable progress we have made.

Turning to the University’s capital program, let me first reiterate our appreciation for the council’s recognition of our urgent facilities needs, especially its assistance in garnering our first multi-year appropriation from the city. Facilities projects are often long-term, so the ability to plan into the future, rather than year to year, offers a degree of certainty that has been quite helpful.

I note with appreciation that the FY 2009 Preliminary Budget recommends a $17.4 million increase to the commitment plan for two important projects–$11.4 million for the Medgar Evers College Academic One Building and $6 million for the Bronx Community College North Instructional Building. The University is also grateful for funds advanced for the Medgar Evers building and the Center 3 renovations at LaGuardia Community College, as well as for Fiterman Hall at Borough of Manhattan Community College.

However, the backlog of deferred maintenance at our community colleges remains a deep concern. In partnership with the State University Construction Fund, the University recently conducted a study to determine what would be required to bring our facilities back to a state of good repair. The study indicated that the University has a $1.7 billion backlog of deferred capital maintenance. Our community colleges represent $516 million of that amount. This includes basic needs, such as heating and ventilation systems, exterior walls, and electrical equipment.

As you know, in capital funding every state dollar spent on our community colleges and Medgar Evers College must be matched by city funds; otherwise, we cannot access the state funds. Unfortunately, there has been inconsistency in the application of this funding split, and CUNY frequently holds on to state money for long periods waiting for the city match. Often the University completes RESOA-funded projects without any state dollars.

This year, the governor’s Executive Budget recommended $2.84 billion for CUNY’s capital needs. Less than 10%–$260 million–was designated for the community colleges and Medgar Evers College. The Executive Budget allocates almost the entire amount the University requested to fund the critical maintenance needs identified in the “State of Good Repair” report for the senior colleges. However, the Executive Budget allocated no critical maintenance funding for the community colleges. The state did not feel confident that the University could secure the city’s matching funds.

This inconsistency is affecting our ability to provide basic maintenance. Every city dollar that we do not receive for the community colleges means that we effectively lose a dollar of state funds. For example, the critical project to renovate Hostos Community College’s 500 Grand Concourse fifth floor is awaiting $900,000 in city funds to fully match available state funds. There are several examples of such projects. In order to truly address our capital needs, we must request additional funding for both critical maintenance and expansion requirements. And we must find a way to work with the council to target the funds in order to maximize their value by matching them with state funding.

Chairperson Barron and members of the committee, we understand, as you do, the precarious economic climate that currently informs this and every funding discussion. It is this climate that makes the University’s budget request this year so important to the city. CUNY is the city’s rainy-day fund, the source it turns to when dark economic clouds threaten. The University provides the training and programs upon which New York’s residents and industries depend; and it is CUNY’s skilled graduates, the vast majority of whom stay and work in New York, who stimulate our economy. With your support, CUNY can continue to be the resource to which the city turns during unsettling times. We remain deeply appreciative of your partnership and look forward to working together to advance the lives and careers of thousands more New Yorkers. Thank you.