May 16, 2008 | Speeches and Testimony
Good afternoon, Chairperson Barron, Chairperson Weprin, and members of the Higher Education and Finance committees. Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you about the Executive Budget. As I begin, let me say how much all of us at CUNY appreciate your longtime support of the University and particularly our six community college–Borough of Manhattan, Bronx, Hostos, Kingsborough, LaGuardia, and Queensborough–as well as Medgar Evers College, the CUNY senior college in central Brooklyn, and all of CUNY’s students who benefit from council-supported scholarships and related initiatives.
At my last visit to the council, I was very pleased to tell you of the growing enrollment at these seven CUNY institutions: more than 82,000 degree-credit students and over 120,000 adult and continuing education students, the highest level in more than 32 years. At CUNY overall, enrollment of degree-seeking students now stands at almost 232,000 students, an increase of nearly 19 percent since 1999.
It is not simply the number of students on our campuses that is notable, however; it is the significant progress they are making academically that truly stands out. Our community colleges serve a highly motivated student population: 60 percent women, 80 percent students of color, 70 percent working full-time or part-time, and most often adults with family responsibilities, including parenting or caring for elderly relatives. Their success is the city’s success, because our ambitious students are the city’s workforce–its talent and its taxpayers. Allow me to share a few examples of their progress:
* A Bronx Community College student was just named one of only 20 All-USA First Academic Team members nationwide by the International Honor Society of Two-Year Colleges and the American Association of Community Colleges.
* This year, for the 11th year in a row, every Hostos Community College radiologic technology graduate who took the national certifying examination passed it on the first attempt, this time with an average score of almost 89 percent.
* This spring, two students from Kingsborough Community College and their professor won coveted spots in a summer science research program at the renowned Brookhaven National Laboratory.
* LaGuardia Community College’s 2007 nursing graduates received a 97 percent pass rate on the national licensure examination. The average pass rate in the state is 75 percent.
* A Queensborough Community College student was named an American Chemical Society Scholar this year after a highly competitive national selection process. And beginning tomorrow, Queensborough will host the American Chemical Society’s Mid-Atlantic Regional Meeting, the first community college in the nation to be selected as a host site.
* Just last month, two teams of engineering students from Borough of Manhattan Community College were among only five teams statewide to successfully complete the state’s Spring Design Competition.
I am extremely proud of the nationally recognized work being accomplished at our community colleges, earned by years of sustained effort by administrators, faculty, and students, many of whom are here today in the audience representing their campuses. Today I must be very frank: these are the very successes that this year’s Executive Budget threatens. The recommended programmatic cuts of almost $26 million would result in an 8 percent reduction in community college funding. There is no question that a reduction of this size will have a profound and serious impact on the services our colleges can offer to students.
Our community colleges play an indispensable role in the economic development of this city. Almost 90 percent of our graduates are employed within six months of earning the associate degree, and over 94 percent are either employed or enrolled for additional education. CUNY students also stay in New York City: of those who are employed, 93 percent work in New York City, contributing to the city’s economy.
Let me cite just one example. Both federal and state officials have raised serious concerns about the current and projected nursing shortage. Over the last five years, CUNY has graduated more than half of all the new registered nurses that come from New York City-based nursing schools. Moreover, these graduates are achieving great success. I mentioned earlier the remarkable performance of LaGuardia’s 2007 graduates on the National Council Licensure Examination–a 97 percent pass rate. But this is only part of the story. For the 2007 exam, six CUNY colleges are among the top 10 schools in New York State with both the highest pass rates and 75 or more test takers. Among those six CUNY colleges are LaGuardia Community College, Queensborough Community College, and Borough of Manhattan Community College. This is a major achievement. Thanks to the comprehensive work accomplished as a result of the report of the Chancellor’s 2002 Nursing Task Force–including implementation of my action plan to create new full-time faculty lines with competitive salaries–CUNY is making a significant contribution to the pressing need for qualified nurses.
The importance of a community-college education to our workforce has been documented in numerous studies and in Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Now, more than ever, as the economic climate worsens, students look to community colleges for pathways to employment. They need “recession insurance,” and CUNY’s community colleges offer it, through career training programs, workforce development, career ladders, and a strong academic foundation for transfer students. We know that associate-degree graduates or those with some college experience are less likely to be unemployed than those with only a high school diploma. They earn more, too: nationally, in 2006, the median annual earnings of workers with an associate’s degree or some college were about $5,000 more than those with just a high school diploma, meaning that these workers contribute more to the national, state, and local tax base.
The University’s highest priority is for our community college students to achieve a degree, which is why I have been so pleased to partner with the city on the innovative Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, or ASAP, which is helping approximately 1,000 students reach this goal. CUNY, like every other higher education system across the country, must focus on helping students succeed in earning an associate’s degree, which offers the greatest number of options for their future, and for the future of their communities.
The Executive Budget leaves the community colleges with a $25.7 million shortfall in direct operating support, which includes all prior year reductions. Based on the reduction proposals submitted by our colleges, cuts of this magnitude would have a harmful impact on our students. Allow me to be more specific:
* At Borough of Manhattan Community College, President Antonio Perez indicates that the college would eliminate 56 adjunct teaching positions, resulting in increased class size and negatively affecting the college’s ability to successfully recruit and retain new faculty.
* President Carolyn Williams of Bronx Community College notes that the cuts would result in the elimination of 230 class sections, decreasing the availability of classes by 6,900 seats, and increasing the average class size from 27 to 37.
* At Hostos Community College, President Dolores Fernandez says that the library would have to be closed on evenings and weekends. The Hostos Academic Learning Center would be severely impacted, minimally resulting in the loss of almost four full weeks of tutoring and additional Saturday/Sunday tutoring services.
* President Regina Peruggi of Kingsborough Community College indicates that reductions in the instructional OTPS budget will lead to significant cuts in the purchase and maintenance of science lab supplies and equipment. In addition, tutors for reading and writing programs will be reduced by over 25 percent.
* At LaGuardia Community College, President Gail Mellow, today represented by Vice President for Adult and Continuing Education Jane Schulman, notes that 444 class sections would be eliminated. This represents a 12 percent reduction and is coming at a time when the college’s enrollment is growing at 6 percent and is opening new programs in radiological technology, criminal justice, and teacher education to meet pressing workforce needs in New York City.
* President Eduardo Marti of Queensborough Community College says that the OTPS budget alone will be reduced by $2 million; security and maintenance budgets will be curtailed by almost 50 percent.
Compounding these cuts, the Executive Budget also eliminates funding for the Safety Net program ($4.5 million), and the Veteran’s Resource Center at LaGuardia Community College ($1 million).
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. Included in these decreases is $2.5 million for the Black Male Initiative, $600,000 for the CUNY Citizenship and Immigration Project, $2.2 million for various centers and institutes, and $11.2 million for the Peter F. Vallone City Council Scholarships.
With the support of the council, all of these important projects and programs offer direct assistance to students. For example, as all of you know well, 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. These are students from both our community colleges and our senior colleges. The presence of many of our senior college presidents here today attests to the scholarships’ importance to students from all boroughs, including President Marcia Keizs of York College, President Tomas Morales from the College of Staten Island, President Edison Jackson of Medgar Evers College, and President Jeremy Travis of John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
Through the outstanding work of our campus leadership, our students are achieving great progress. Their efforts will undoubtedly be set back by reductions in scholarships, class sections, advisement, library hours, and many other core academic services. As they strive to insure themselves against the economic forces that are mounting against them, we must keep open their pathways to education, which represent their best insurance policy.
Let me turn to the University’s capital program. 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.
The current situation is stark: city matching funds were not provided for most of the new state appropriations for the community colleges received in the fiscal year 2008-2009 State Adopted Budget. Given the urgency of the University’s capital needs–including the fact that some campuses have not seen upgrades in decades–we find ourselves at a critical juncture.
One of the most serious needs is the replacement of Fiterman Hall at Borough of Manhattan Community College. As you know, this building was irrevocably damaged in the September 11 attacks and must be taken down and replaced with a new facility. After many delays, and with recent approval by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on the decontamination plan, the University has moved forward on a schedule to take down the building and begin construction by spring of 2009. However, without city funding of $78.7 million to match the state appropriation, the schedule will be delayed, while construction costs will continue to rise. In the meantime, Borough of Manhattan Community College, which was overcrowded before Fiterman Hall was destroyed, now has an acute space problem, which becomes more unmanageable with every semester of enrollment growth. BMCC is CUNY’s largest community college, and the only one in Manhattan. Almost 20,000 students enrolled at the college have no cafeteria and no gym, because all available space must be used for instructional purposes. The Fiterman Hall project is one that can ill afford further setbacks.
Another area of great concern is the backlog of critical maintenance needs at our community colleges. 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. Many of the worst conditions were found at our community colleges and Medgar Evers College. 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.
The state budget recognized the critical maintenance needs at a modest level–but the city’s Executive Budget provided no additional funding to match the state. In fact, the state has begun to allocate fewer funds for city projects because of the recent history of the City of New York not matching state dollars. Without the $88.9 million from the city needed to match the new state funding, the University cannot apply the state funds for CUNY-wide maintenance projects at our community colleges. Every city dollar that we do not receive means that we effectively lose a dollar of state funds–and that conditions at our community colleges worsen.
As a further example, the state also appropriated $9.2 million for the continued renovation of the 500 Grand Concourse Building at Hostos Community College. A city match is needed so that we can proceed on the next phase of a floor-by-floor renovation of the five-story building, including new fire alarm and security systems, bathroom renovations, and new mechanical and electrical systems.
Of course, Medgar Evers College and each of the community colleges have their own individual capital projects to address space and safety issues on their campuses, projects that grow in urgency and expense every year.
Chairperson Barron, Chairperson Weprin, and members of the committees, we have greatly appreciated being able to work in partnership with you and the city and state to ensure that every one of our students receives the best possible education and is prepared to strengthen a workforce very much in need of educated, motivated professionals. Today, when more and more New Yorkers look to higher education and advanced training as recession insurance, our colleges’ work is seriously threatened by the reductions recommended in the Executive Budget. Only with your strong support and partnership will we be able to continue to offer our students and our city the tools they need to weather any economic climate. CUNY needs investment, with a high-yield return assured for New York.
On behalf of all of us here today and all of us at CUNY, thank you for your continued work for the University and for New York City.