Supreme Praise for CUNY Power

January 11, 2011 | CUNY Matters Columns

In June, U.S. Supreme Court Associate Justice Sonia Sotomayor addressed graduates at Hostos Community College, her mother’s alma mater, saying that a Hostos education “gave me and my brother a powerful example of the value of education and of family.  My family is a testament to the contributions that community colleges make to our society.”  Looking to the future, she told graduates, “You will breathe life into the dreams of the next generation….Together we’re going to make this a better world.”

As a new academic year begins, Justice Sotomayor’s words are a timely reminder of just how powerful a college education is.  A rigorous education transforms lives and can transform our collective future.

More and more students understand the power of a CUNY education.  In fact, our record enrollments are projected to climb even higher this fall.  Our students know that studying with the University’s world-class faculty in innovative academic programs can make all the difference to their personal and professional advancement.

Serving a projected 267,000 degree-seeking students is not without its challenges, however.  This year, CUNY sustained $84 million in state budget cuts to its senior colleges, which have experienced more than $205 million in reductions since 2009, while adding thousands more students.  At our community colleges, where enrollment has increased by more than 20 percent since 2005, base aid per FTE has been cut by $285, resulting in an operating budget loss of about $20 million.  In addition, the state did not reach any resolution on the proposed Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, which recommended a number of tuition and regulatory adjustments, including differential tuition rates by campus and program. 

CUNY is not alone in trying to manage the perilous combination of declining state budgets and increasing enrollments.  Like public colleges and universities across the country, the University is deeply committed to its historic mission of access and quality but faces difficult questions about maintaining that mission in tough economic times.  That’s why this fall CUNY will host a national summit of seasoned public higher education leaders to discuss the pressing issues we share: shrinking state support for operating budgets and financial aid programs; growing dependence on tuition, paid by students of limited means; and increased pressure to develop other funding opportunities.  This is clearly a time for bold new approaches to postsecondary education.

That kind of enterprising approach is exemplified by the continuing development of our new community college in Manhattan.  The college will open in 2012 as an innovative model for improving student performance and graduation rates.  The University recently appointed Scott Evenbeck, professor of psychology and dean of University College at Indiana University-Purdue University at Indianapolis, as the college’s founding president.  Evenbeck will lead the implementation of the college’s design, which includes full-time enrollment in the first year, a common first-year curriculum, intensive advisement, a limited number of majors, and a professional studies component.  And to further the University’s efforts to reinvigorate community-college education—the fastest-growing segment of higher education—Eduardo Martí, who has served with great distinction as president of Queensborough Community College, has been appointed CUNY’s vice chancellor for community colleges.

Over the coming year, CUNY will also celebrate two significant milestones: the 40th anniversary of Medgar Evers College and the 10th anniversary of Macaulay Honors College.  Having grown from an enrollment of 1,000 students in 1970 to more than 7,000 students today, and boasting an acclaimed faculty and a host of new degree programs and facilities, Medgar Evers will fete the college’s rich history and its graduates’ promising futures.  Macaulay will also salute the achievements of its graduates as it marks 10 years of building a creative curriculum that offers students an individual academic program and global learning opportunities. 

Two of the seven CUNY colleges in which Macaulay students enroll are joined by new leaders this fall: President Lisa Staiano-Coico at City College and President Mitchel Wallerstein at Baruch College.  We welcome them to a community of educators passionately engaged in shaping graduates ready to “make this a better world.”