Testimony Submitted to the New York State Assembly on Impact of Deficit Reduction Plan

October 23, 2009 | Speeches and Testimony

The City University of New York appreciates the opportunity to offer testimony regarding the Deficit Reduction Plan and its impact on CUNY’s programs and services.

The University is very grateful for the New York State Assembly’s longtime support of CUNY’s operating and capital needs. All of us at CUNY look forward to continuing to work in partnership with Assembly members on behalf of CUNY’s growing student body.

In fact, the University is experiencing record enrollment growth. The number of students enrolled in credit-bearing courses this fall is almost 260,000, an increase of more than 6 percent over fall 2008 and the highest since 1974, when there was no tuition charge and enrollment peaked at 253,000. CUNY’s senior colleges saw an enrollment increase of 4.6 percent from fall 2008, while the community colleges experienced a 9 percent increase over fall 2008 enrollment. Adult and continuing education enrollments are also expected to exceed all records by the conclusion of the academic year.

This unprecedented growth reflects the economic challenges currently facing our country and our state, as increasing numbers of students look to gain advanced skills and reshape careers in order to compete successfully in a changing economic environment. At the same time, the enrollment increases are a measure of New Yorkers’ increased confidence in CUNY, where students know they can find the high-quality, affordable education that is the hallmark of public universities. As a partner in CUNY’s advancement, the Assembly shares credit for the University’s resurgence.

The University’s faculty and students continue to demonstrate CUNY’s academic quality. CUNY students have recently garnered a number of nationally competitive awards, including a Rhodes Scholarship, National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, Truman Scholarships—the fifth in five consecutive years—and Goldwater Scholarships. CUNY faculty have also been recognized for their scholarship this year, with a Grammy Award, a MacArthur “genius” award, and six Guggenheim Fellowships, tying Princeton University and Johns Hopkins University for the most 2009 Guggenheim recipients.

Maintaining the quality of its academic programs remains the University’s highest priority. However, record enrollment growth poses significant challenges. The demand for faculty, programs, class sections, academic and student services, and classroom and laboratory space is also at record levels. The surge in students has taxed the University’s resources and infrastructure at every level.

During this time of economic crisis, our country and our state face difficult financial choices, as reflected in the Deficit Reduction Plan. Every state or state-supported agency, to the extent that it can, must work to alleviate the state’s burden. The proposed reduction for CUNY’s senior colleges in the current year is $53 million, which represents a 4.8 percent cut in state support, taken against non-personnel service (OTPS) costs.

Clearly, it is difficult for the University to absorb a mid-year reduction, particularly when it follows previous cuts to CUNY’s senior colleges totaling $68.3 million. While the University anticipated the likelihood of a mid-year cut and took appropriate measures to mitigate its effect and prevent significant diminishment of academic services, the fact remains that it will have a chilling effect on CUNY’s plans. As the legislature reviews the proposed OTPS reductions, the University will continue to focus on protecting its core mission. Going forward, a serious concern is the cumulative effect of the cuts on the quality of education at our senior colleges; we must prevent the permanent damage that will result from a sustained period of reductions.

In addition, the reduction plan proposes cuts in state aid to the community colleges in the amount of $260 per student, as well as cuts to related community-college support, including child care centers, rental aid, workforce development, and the College Discovery program. Community colleges are a focal point of our national and state recovery efforts, providing affordable degree and workforce training programs for increasing numbers of students. Unprecedented national initiatives to increase the number of college graduates, including President Obama’s American Graduation Initiative, have been directed at community colleges, which serve almost half of our country’s undergraduates. CUNY’s community colleges have absorbed significant enrollment increases, straining their ability to meet the wide range of student needs. Over the last decade, since 1999, enrollment has increased by 43 percent at our six community colleges. This year, the University experienced an increase of nearly 60 percent in the number of applicants who selected a community college as their first-choice college. Four community colleges have seen the number of students grow by well over 10 percent in one year. For these reasons, the University will remain vigilant about the fiscal health of its community colleges, one of the state’s best engines of economic development.

The University has not seen details of a proposed $120 cut to every student receiving financial assistance through the state’s Tuition Assistance Program. However, financial aid awards, always critical to enabling access to higher education, are essential in times of fiscal distress. 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. In addition, programs that support the preparation of under-represented and economically disadvantaged students for college and long-term careers—including Liberty Partnerships, STEP, CSTEP, and the Gateway Institute—have an especially important role to play during a recession and should be given thorough consideration.

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. During these very challenging times, CUNY looks forward to continuing to partner with the executive and legislative branches in order to maintain the University’s critical role in revitalizing our economy and bolstering our educated workforce. Thank you.

Matthew Goldstein
Chancellor
The City University of New York