2009-10 State Executive Budget Testimony

January 15, 2009 | Speeches and Testimony

Good morning, Chairman Farrell, Chairman Kruger, Vice Chairwoman Krueger, 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 2009-10 State Executive Budget Proposal.

This has been a difficult year in our country, our state, and at CUNY. The current fiscal crisis has affected all of us deeply, and it is clear that there will not be a quick recovery. As Governor Paterson said in his State of the State address last week, New York’s situation is “perilous.” One effect of the fiscal crisis on CUNY is that we are experiencing unprecedented demand as more and more New Yorkers look to gain new skills and reshape their careers. Today, more than ever, economic conditions require that all of us work together to protect those most vulnerable and to enable New York State to recover and, ultimately, invest in its future. In partnership with the governor and the legislature, the University is committed to maintaining its role as a key generator of workforce and economic development and the producer of a highly educated citizenry.

This academic year has seen an expansion of this important role. CUNY’s enrollment is at its highest level since 1975, with more than 244,000 degree-seeking students, an increase of 4.8 percent over last year. Early data indicate that we should expect more growth: at the end of 2008, the number of new freshmen accepted for Spring 2009 had increased by more than 13 percent, and Fall 2009 applications to the University are significantly ahead of last year’s numbers. By Fall 2009, we expect to exceed CUNY’s highest previous enrollment of degree-seeking students (253,000). This increase in students making CUNY their academic destination includes more and more high-achieving students. The Macaulay Honors College had its largest number of applicants ever for its class of 2012, and those admitted have average SAT scores of almost 1400. This fall we were especially pleased when one of Macaulay’s students, David Bauer of City College, was selected as one of only 32 Americans to receive a 2009 Rhodes Scholarship. He is the third CUNY Rhodes recipient in the last five years. And most recently, in the 2009 Princeton Review list of the 100 “Best Value” colleges, Hunter College was ranked No. 8 among public institutions nationally, and three other CUNY colleges—Baruch, Brooklyn, and Queens—were included among the top 50. Speaking of Hunter College, its nationally renowned School of Social Work will have a new home in Harlem, which will also house the new CUNY School of Public Health.

Just as our students need the skills and credentials that a CUNY education offers, so, too, does the state need the talent and energy our graduates add to New York’s workforce. To that end, the University’s 2009-10 budget request focuses on serving students by providing the full-time faculty and academic programs they need, facilities that encourage their best work, and information management systems that streamline their progress.

Our budget request is based on the CUNY Compact model of financing: a partnership involving not only state and local governments but also the University (through productivity and efficiency measures), the University’s friends and donors, and the University’s students (through modest tuition increases). A growing student body requires strong public support. For example, we must continue to build our full-time faculty. The last time CUNY’s enrollment was this high, in 1975, we employed more than 11,000 full-time faculty. Today, 6,700 full-time faculty work at the University—and even this is an increase of over 1,200 since 1999, achieved through considerable effort and the strong support of the legislature.

The State Executive Budget recommends a total of $1.9 billion for CUNY’s senior colleges, which reflects a decrease of state support of almost $65 million, offset by more than $115 million from additional tuition and fee revenue. This revenue is based on tuition rate increases of 15 percent, or $300 per semester, for resident full-time undergraduate students and 20 percent for graduate students.

For the first time in state history, the budget calls for 20 percent of the tuition revenue increase to be retained by the University for investment in core activities, increasing to 50 percent as state fiscal conditions improve. We are deeply grateful for the leadership exhibited by the Governor and the Division of Budget in presenting this plan, which moves toward the investment called for by the compact model. At the same time, the CUNY Compact has called for a rational tuition policy, one that seeks to keep tuition increases at a modest level.

The Executive Budget also authorizes the CUNY Board of Trustees to permit differential tuition rates by campus and program for non-state residents. As we indicated through meetings and recommendations of the New York State Commission on Higher Education last year, CUNY believes that differential tuition by campus would not work for the University, but we do support differential tuition by program.

Included in the Executive Budget is a proposed $20 million University-wide reduction to our senior colleges in non-core activities. This is on top of reductions absorbed by the University in the adopted budget process and special legislative session last year, implemented through strategies aimed at maintaining our core academic mission and protecting our services to students.

The State Executive Budget also recommends a reduction in community-college base aid per FTE by $270 for the current year that would be continued into FY2009-10. For CUNY this equates to about $4 million in the current year and $18 million in 2009-10.

CUNY’s six community colleges are now serving more than 81,000 students, an increase of more than 6 percent since just last year and 31 percent since 1999. Borough of Manhattan Community College alone experienced an enrollment increase of more than 13 percent since last year.

Particularly in times of financial distress, New Yorkers turn to our community colleges for academic, professional-development, job-training, and career-ladder opportunities. These six colleges are the portal for an extraordinary array of academic needs. From adding multiple sections of core math and writing courses each semester, to developing cutting-edge training programs in response to worker and industry needs, to partnering with local schools to increase students’ academic readiness, our community colleges offer high-quality learning opportunities to the most diverse group of students. CUNY’s community colleges consistently exceed our expectations, but they can continue to do so only with appropriate support. Their capacity will be severely tested in the coming year.

The 2009-10 Executive Budget also recommends several changes to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). In the 2007-08 academic year, 75,000 CUNY students received $170 million in TAP awards. This financial assistance makes a considerable difference in our students’ ability to pursue and attain a college degree.

CUNY supports most of the TAP actions recommended in the Executive Budget, including proposals to include public pension earnings in determining TAP income eligibility, to increase academic standards for continued TAP eligibility, and to make students in default of student loans ineligible for TAP.

However, we have concerns about two recommendations. First is the proposal to align TAP awards with course load by changing the definition of “full-time” from 12 to 15 credits per semester and giving those students who register for 10 to 14 credits a pro-rated award. Overall, the move toward a credit-based TAP system is a positive one. However, CUNY students who do not register for 15 credits often do so because their work schedules and family obligations prevent heavier course loads. While the University encourages timely completion of a degree in every way it can, we have difficulty supporting a change that would penalize working students, those most in need of financial assistance.

CUNY accounts for about 22 percent of students statewide who receive TAP, students who are among the poorest in the state. Yet our students would bear 49 percent of the cost of this proposal. The University’s priority is to assist the neediest students. Financial aid is most equitable when it is aimed at students with the greatest need and those in the middle class, who are hard-pressed.

We do support aspects of this proposal that would benefit CUNY students, including extending TAP to students enrolling for 10 or 11 credits—a change we have long supported—and changing TAP eligibility from eight semesters to 120 credits completed.

The second TAP proposal that causes concern is the recommendation to eliminate the enhancement of TAP award amounts for students from families with multiple members in college. This enhancement reduces a family’s net taxable income for multiple dependent members, modestly increasing TAP awards by an average of $250 to $350 per student. Retaining this enhancement appropriately recognizes the additional expenses borne by such families.

Turning to the capital budget, our facilities program remains a high priority for the University. We are grateful for the generous appropriations allocated over the last few budget cycles, which have allowed us to make substantial progress in constructing and maintaining facilities. Particularly noteworthy is the state leadership and support in achieving full funding for Fiterman Hall of Borough of Manhattan Community College at Ground Zero. Nevertheless, many of our campuses are in disrepair and badly in need of modernization. In fact, the average age of CUNY buildings is approximately 50 years, and some of the University’s buildings are more than 100 years old.

Last year I reported that CUNY, in partnership with SUNY, completed a facilities analysis that showed that the University had a backlog of more than $1.7 billion in critical maintenance needs. With the support of the legislature, last year CUNY received $284 million for critical maintenance projects at our senior colleges and more than $67 million at our community colleges, to be matched by the city. This year, the Executive Budget recommends another $284 million critical-maintenance allocation to our senior colleges. We appreciate this recognition of the urgency of our maintenance needs. Ongoing maintenance allows us to prevent the greater, long-term expenses that inevitably result from deferrals.

As you know, CUNY projects are not always fully funded when added to the budget. Several important projects at CUNY colleges were not included in the Executive Budget and merit your consideration. These include projects that support the Decade of Science, such as the second phase of the new science facility at Lehman College in the Bronx and the High-Performance Computational Visualization and Instructional Center at the College of Staten Island.

Other projects are also critical to our vision to serve the residents of all of the city’s boroughs. For example, at York College in Jamaica, Queens, our priority is to design and finance a comprehensive student center, along with a modern conference facility that would not only serve as a cultural and community center in Jamaica but would also generate revenue within the borough. We also continue to investigate an appropriate new site for the CUNY Law School in Queens. This will simultaneously allow Queens College to use the existing space to help alleviate its classroom needs. Equally important, in the University’s Master Plan, adopted last June, a key capital goal is to secure 100 percent state capital funding for Medgar Evers College in Brooklyn, consistent with CUNY’s other senior colleges.

We were very pleased to see that Governor Paterson included higher-education projects in his request to President-elect Obama for infrastructure investment in New York State. CUNY’s capital construction program has many projects in well-developed planning or nearly completed design phases. With the New York City comptroller estimating private-sector job losses in the 165,000 range in New York City over the next two years, funding support of CUNY’s capital program is a potent way to foster economic recovery.

In its stimulus request to the governor, the University included projects that reflect our capital priorities: critical maintenance and our Decade of Science initiative. These projects, many of which incorporate green standards and technologies, total over $2.2 billion. We estimate that they would create nearly 14,000 construction and offsite jobs. As our state and our country look to rebuild a damaged economy, shovel-ready capital projects offer an immediate and effective opportunity for recovery.

Chairman Farrell, Chairman Kruger, and Vice Chairwoman Krueger, and members of the Senate and Assembly, I greatly appreciate your longtime support of CUNY and public higher education in New York. Your efforts have enabled CUNY to continue to build the faculty and academic programs that will provide the next generation of New Yorkers the tools they need to sustain our state’s vibrancy. During these very challenging times, we look forward to working in partnership with you to maintain the University’s critical role in revitalizing our economy and bolstering our educated workforce. Thank you.