CUNY Gears Up For New Challenges

March 13, 2009 | CUNY Matters Columns

This has been a difficult year in our country, our state and at CUNY. More than ever, economic conditions require that all of us work together to protect the most vulnerable and to enable New York State to recover and ultimately invest in its future. As a key generator of workforce and economic development and the producer of a highly educated citizenry, the University has a pivotal role to play in recovery efforts.

CUNY is experiencing unprecedented demand as New Yorkers look to gain new skills and reshape careers. Our enrollment is at its highest level since 1975, a 4.8 percent increase over last year. There are significant increases in the number of new freshmen accepted for Spring 2009, and in the number of Fall 2009 applications.

These increases include more and more high-achieving students. The Macaulay Honors College had its largest number of applicants ever for its class of 2012; those admitted have average SAT scores of almost 1400. This fall, Macaulay student David Bauer of City College was one of 32 Americans awarded a 2009 Rhodes Scholarship – CUNY’s third Rhodes in five years. The 2009 Princeton Review list of the 100 “Best Value” colleges ranked Hunter College No. 8 among U.S. public institutions. Baruch, Brooklyn and Queens Colleges were among the top 50.

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. 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, we employ 6,700.

The University’s 2009-10 budget request focuses on providing the full-time faculty and programs students need, facilities that encourage their best work and information management systems that streamline their progress. Our request was based on the CUNY Compact model of financing, a partnership of not only state and local governments but also the University, CUNY’s friends and donors and CUNY students.

The State Executive Budget recommends $1.9 billion for CUNY’s senior colleges, reflecting 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 CUNY for investment in core activities, increasing to 50 percent as the state economy improves. This is an important step, which moves toward the investment called for by the compact model. At the same time, the CUNY Compact has called for a tuition policy that seeks to keep increases at a modest level.

The Executive Budget proposes a $20-million University-wide reduction to our senior colleges in non-core activities and a reduction in community-college base aid per FTE by $270 for the current year that would continue into FY2009-10. For CUNY, this equates to about $4 million in the current year and $18 million in 2009-10.

Particularly in times of financial distress, New Yorkers turn to our community colleges for academic, professional-development and job-training opportunities. CUNY’s six community colleges — now serving more than 81,000 students, an increase of more than 6 percent since last year — offer high-quality learning opportunities to meet a wide range of needs. Their capacity will be severely tested in the coming year.

Many CUNY campuses are in disrepair and need modernization. Last year, funding was provided for critical-maintenance projects at our senior and community colleges, and this year the Executive Budget recommends another critical-maintenance allocation. We appreciate this recognition of our needs. However, several important projects at CUNY colleges across the five boroughs were not included in the budget, from science facilities to student and classroom centers. As enrollment grows, these projects take on special urgency.

Federal investment in public higher education is also critical, and Governor Paterson included higher-education projects in his request to President Obama for infrastructure investment in the state. With New York City’s comptroller estimating city private-sector job losses around 165,000 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, total over $2.2 billion and would create nearly 14,000 construction and off-site jobs.

In these challenging times, higher education is key to our country’s growth and well-being. In partnership with city, state and federal governments, the University is committed to building the facilities, faculty and programs that will give the next generation the tools to sustain our state’s vibrancy.