2011 City Executive Budget Testimony

May 17, 2010 | Speeches and Testimony

Good morning, Chairperson Recchia, Chairperson Rodriguez, and members of the Finance and Higher Education committees.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you this morning about the Mayor’s 2011 Executive Budget and its effect on The City University of New York, especially our six community colleges: Borough of Manhattan, Bronx, Hostos, Kingsborough, LaGuardia, and Queensborough.  I am very pleased to be joined by senior leaders of these institutions: President Antonio Pérez of BMCC, President Carolyn Williams of Bronx, President Félix Matos Rodriguez of Hostos, Vice

President for Academic Administration David Gomez of Kingsborough, Vice President for Academic Affairs Peter Katopes of LaGuardia, and Vice President for Student Affairs Ellen Hartigan of Queensborough.

I would like to take a moment to extend our appreciation for your support of CUNY’s operating and capital budget needs.  Chairperson Recchia, you have been a longstanding champion of the University, and Chairperson Rodriguez, as a CUNY alumnus and now as chairperson of the Higher Education Committee, you have been a consistent advocate for our students.  We thank you, along with the members of the committees, Speaker Quinn, and the entire council.  Over the years, your partnership has been very significant to us and has helped our students immeasurably.

I’d also like to thank the council for encouraging us to work closely with the executive branch to meet our pressing operating and capital needs.  We are grateful that the mayor has heard many of our concerns.  However, there are still some important issues to discuss with you today.  For your reference, we have attached to today’s testimony the University’s analysis of the Executive Budget, which outlines the recommendations affecting CUNY.

As you know, demand for the University continues to grow.  Our enrollments are at record levels.  Since 1999, enrollment at our six community colleges has increased by 43 percent—almost the equivalent of adding the total undergraduate populations of NYU and Columbia combined.

Our six community colleges are one of the city’s best engines of workforce development.  With your support, they are on the front lines of recovery efforts, helping New Yorkers adapt to economic changes through job-training programs in growth areas like health care, including a new health information technology program; transitional programs for mid-career and managerial employees who have lost their jobs; and a range of programs to help workers in fields such as hospitality and real estate gain new credentials and knowledge in order to stay competitive during these challenging times.  Almost 90 percent of our associate-degree graduates are employed within six months of earning the degree.  CUNY students also stay in New York City: of those who are employed, 91 percent work in New York City, contributing to the city’s economy.

Applications to CUNY continue to increase.  As of last week, regular freshman     applications were up 19 percent since this time last year.  Transfer applications are up by 27 percent.  We are gratified that more and more New Yorkers are seeking a CUNY education; these increases are a striking indication of the quality and value that CUNY       offers.  I am very proud of the hard work by our presidents and faculty to maintain high academic standards in order to ensure the value of a CUNY degree.

As we work to accommodate students, we are also uncompromising in our belief that academic quality must be maintained.  As a result of our increasing applications and enrollment, we have been working for some time to responsibly consider and plan for an earlier admissions deadline for the fall 2010 semester.  Since September, we have announced a deadline for undergraduate admissions of February 1, 2010.  This date was communicated to high school counselors, community-based organization professionals, and transfer counselors at CUNY’s community colleges, as well as SUNY community colleges in the New York metropolitan area, both in writing and in workshops in the fall.  Applicants and counselors were informed that students who applied after the February 1 deadline would have their applications considered on a space-available basis.  The fact that the number of students applying by February 1 increased by more than 20 percent over the same time last year—while high school enrollment remained steady—indicates that students and counselors were responsive to the adjusted timeline.

At CUNY’s April Board of Trustees meeting, I explained the work under way to plan for an earlier admission deadline.  As of May 8, CUNY was no longer able to accept applications with the assurance that the applicants’ credentials would be reviewed and a place at a CUNY college would be offered for the fall 2010 semester.  We have implemented a waiting list for students who apply at a late date, and CUNY’s admission website offers a designated link with detailed information about the wait list.  In implementing the list, CUNY has joined the mainstream of highly regarded universities that routinely employ waiting lists.  It is our intention that wait-listed students with significant English language needs, or those likely to require remediation in academic reading/writing and math, will be accommodated through specialized interventions designed to address their learning needs.  Through these interventions, students will be better prepared to succeed in college-level coursework upon matriculation, and they will be given priority status for spring 2011 admission.  All of these steps indicate our resolve to carefully and prudently plan a way to accommodate a record number of students while still offering each student the high-quality educational experience she or he deserves.

As you know, I have emphasized the importance of academic quality for some time.  We have spoken of the benefits of earning a degree and the need to increase graduation rates at community colleges—and this has now become a national conversation and a national imperative.  Even the most recent New York Times magazine included an article pointing out that the United States no longer leads the world in educational attainment—and, at the same time, the gap between the pay of college graduates and everyone else reached an all-time high last year.

At the leading edge of efforts to increase degree attainment is CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs initiative, or ASAP.  Thanks to the mayor and the City Council, this innovative program, which offers financial support and comprehensive academic support to improve graduation rates and job prospects for community-college students, is achieving great success.  Based on all predictors, this year we expect a three-year graduation rate in the neighborhood of 60 percent for our ASAP students, compared to a national three-year graduation rate of about 16 percent for large urban community colleges.   I think you will agree that these are promising results.

In fact, our experience with ASAP is informing our development of a new community college in Manhattan.  I am very grateful that funds for the new college have been included in the Executive Budget.  Our continued enrollment growth mandates expansion—particularly in Manhattan, which is served only by BMCC, a college with an explosive enrollment of almost 22,000 students.  Rather than simply squeeze in additional students, we are determined to take a responsible, thoughtful approach.  We are using what we have learned in ASAP and through the work of our own community-college presidents and faculty and a national advisory group to re-imagine community-college education.  The new college is designed to include components such as required full-time enrollment in the first year, a common first-year curriculum, and college-wide learning communities, all developed in consultation with faculty.  We continue to make significant progress in the formation of the new college, including curricular, organizational, and human resources planning, and expect to open in 2012.

CUNY’s rapid enrollment increases have also had a significant impact on our capital program.  As more students access our facilities, filling classrooms, libraries, and laboratories, the demand for space grows, and the wear and tear on our buildings accelerates.

The council has been very attentive to the many capital needs of our community colleges, and I thank you for helping us make real progress in providing safe, modern spaces for our students.  Projects such as the replacement of Fiterman Hall at BMCC and the construction of the North Instructional Building at Bronx Community College would not be possible were it not for the council.

By way of update, the deconstruction of the old Fiterman Hall was completed in November 2009, and foundation work on the new building began shortly thereafter.  Steel fabrication is now in progress.  Construction is expected to be completed in June 2012.  When this building is available, it will greatly help to relieve overcrowding at one of our most congested campuses.

Bronx’s North Instructional Building is also well into construction.  Foundations and structural steel are complete, and precast concrete wall panels are now being installed.  Plumbing, mechanical, and electrical contractors are preparing to start work.  Completion of the 98,000-square-foot building is scheduled for April 2012.

In addition to these large projects, there are many smaller projects that are either in construction or will start soon, thanks to the council’s allocation of lump-sum capital funds.  These include the renovation of the fifth floor and roof of the 500 Grand Concourse building at Hostos; the construction of a new child development center at Bronx Community College; the renovation of the admissions and bursar areas of the Center 3 building at LaGuardia; and the replacement of the central boiler plant at Kingsborough.  The council has also been very generous in its support of the College of Staten Island’s Cyber Café and Library Information Center.

The January allocation of $23 million in critical-maintenance funds from the mayor also allowed CUNY to begin to address a few of the most serious issues at our campuses.  We are very pleased with this incremental progress—but the fact remains that capital needs at the community colleges are substantial.  I have testified previously about the critical maintenance study that we did in 2007 in partnership with SUNY, which indicated that we have a backlog of hundreds of millions of dollars in critical-maintenance work.

As a result, we requested a multi-year allocation of $200 million in critical maintenance funds in this budget, $50 million for each year of the four-year plan.  As you know, education law requires that capital projects for the community colleges be funded 50 percent by the state and 50 percent by the city.  We have been very gratified that even in this difficult financial climate, the state has consistently matched funds for our community colleges.

These critical-maintenance funds would address priority projects at the community colleges.  For example, at Hostos Community College, a large concrete panel recently fell from the façade of the 500 Grand Concourse building.  We are more than fortunate that this occurred on Good Friday, when no students were on campus.  As a temporary measure, sidewalk bridges have been installed to protect pedestrians.  However, a permanent structural solution is now in the works to ensure public safety and the integrity of the building

In addition, LaGuardia’s 10-story Center 3 Building is almost 100 years old and is approximately the size of Macy’s.  Its enormous terra-cotta façade is in need of complete replacement.  Over the past few years there has been increasing façade deterioration and window failure in several locations.  These dangerous conditions have necessitated the installation of protective barriers around the perimeter of the building.  The University does have funds to initiate the design of this project.

And at Bronx Community College, utility upgrades are urgently needed to address the campus’s failing and inefficient mechanical infrastructure and to provide additional capacity for future growth.  This multi-phase project will include the installation of a new central plant and distribution system for both cooling and heating, as well as new central electric service and switchgear/distribution equipment for each building.  Funding is in place for the first phase of this project, but much more is needed.

In this time of unprecedented growth at our community colleges, we simply cannot ignore urgent health, safety, and plant maintenance issues at our campuses.  I should add that funding for these projects is not only essential for the colleges but has logical benefits for the city.  Construction is a central part of the city’s economic plan, and maintenance and construction contracts spur the local economy during this critical time.

In fact, the Mayor’s 2011 Executive Budget recognizes the key role our six community colleges play in the city.  We are grateful for the operational support recommended for CUNY in the budget.  The FY2011 Financial Plan provides $243.5 million in city support for CUNY’s community colleges, which is $1.0 million more than current-year funding levels.  This year-to-year change reflects $36.9 million in additional funding for mandatory cost increases such as collective bargaining, fringe benefits, and energy, and other new programmatic needs, and is offset by $35.9 million in overall reductions.  Among the reductions is $21.4 million in direct community-college operating support.  As you may remember, last year the council restored this funding on a one-time basis.  We ask for your help again.

As we encourage our community colleges to enhance their core academic enterprise, we have emphasized the need for competitive programs and additional full-time faculty.  We have made great gains in adding to our full-time corps, but with enrollment growing at an even faster pace, we still have a long way to go.  At our community colleges, part-timers still outnumber full-timers, comprising 63% of the total faculty.  This is an area in which progress can only be made with sustained operational investment.

The Executive Budget also eliminates funding for several crucial initiatives at CUNY, including $9.5 million for the Peter F. Vallone City Council Scholarships, $2.5 million for the Black Male Initiative, $900,000 for centers and institutes, and $400,000 for the Creative Arts Team.  In particular, the Vallone scholarships make a considerable difference to students working hard to meet their financial obligations and make progress toward a degree.  The scholarships offer vital support to high-achieving city students, encouraging them to remain in the city for their college education.  In addition, while national efforts to increase educational attainment gain momentum, the University’s Black Male Initiative (BMI) has taken a leading role in fostering the participation and educational success of under-represented groups in higher education.  The BMI continues to be an effective means of encouraging student persistence through counseling programs, speakers and mentors, and workshops, which are open to all students at CUNY.  I ask for the council’s assistance in restoring funding for these essential academic support programs.

Chairperson Recchia, Chairperson Rodriguez, and members of the committees, you know better than anyone the enormous pressure that the economic recession has placed on New Yorkers.  With your continued support, CUNY can maintain its role as one of the city’s best resources during troubling economic times.  All of us at CUNY remain deeply committed to our historic mission of serving New Yorkers and helping them to advance themselves personally and professionally—now more than ever.  I thank you for your valued partnership in this effort, and I look forward to continuing our important work.