Testimony submitted to the New York State Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means Committees on the 2011-12 State Executive Budget

February 10, 2011 | Speeches and Testimony

Good morning, Chairperson DeFrancisco, Chairman Farrell, members of the Finance and Ways and Means committees, staff, and guests.  Thank you for the opportunity to testify before you today about The City University of New York and the 2011-12 State Executive Budget Proposal.  I will ask the senior officers of the University accompanying me to introduce themselves, starting on my left.

We come to you today at what we all know is a difficult time for the State of New York—and, I would submit, a time when the presence of CUNY and SUNY, two of the three largest public university systems in the nation, has never been more important.

As Assemblymember Deborah Glick, chairwoman of the Assembly Committee on Higher Education, wrote recently in an opinion piece in the Albany Times-Union, “…SUNY and CUNY for decades have been the most effective economic development investments the state and city have made.”  Senator Kenneth P. LaValle, chairman of the Senate Higher Education Committee and chairman of the Senate Majority Conference, has also spoken of the importance of our public universities to the future of the state.  One of the senator’s New Year’s resolutions, posted to his Senate site, pointedly resolves to “expand our economy through our higher education and health care institutions.”

CUNY continues to advance its critical mission on behalf of the state.  Our enrollment is at record levels: as of fall 2010 we are serving more than 262,000 degree-seeking students and an additional 257,000 adult and continuing education registrations.  In fact, our surging enrollment prompted us to implement our first-ever wait list for applicants who filed late.  Most recently, enrollment in our winter session—the short period in between the fall and spring semesters—set another record, with almost 14,000 students, an 11 percent increase over last year’s enrollment.

At the same time, more and more high-achieving students continue to seek out CUNY.  SAT scores for 2010 CUNY first-time freshmen have increased by 33 points on average at our top-tier senior colleges.  We were also delighted with the recent news that CUNY student Zujaja Tauqeer, who is enrolled in the Macaulay Honors College at Brooklyn College, was selected as one of only 32 Americans to be a 2011 Rhodes Scholar.  CUNY students continue to win nationally competitive awards such as Truman, Goldwater, Marshall, Fulbright, National Science Foundation, and National Institute of Health fellowships and scholarships.

CUNY faculty continue to garner prestigious recognition, as well.  For example, three CUNY professors were awarded 2010 Guggenheim Fellowships: Kimiko Hahn, distinguished professor of English at Queens College; Colum McCann, distinguished lecturer in the Hunter College MFA program; and Joshua Brown, executive director of the American Social History Project/Center for Media and Learning at the Graduate Center.  In addition, Anthony Carpi, professor of environmental toxicology at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, was at the White House last month to receive the Presidential Award for Excellence in Science, Mathematics and Engineering Mentoring.

Enabling our faculty to provide a world-class education for all of our students, one that truly prepares them to compete in a global marketplace, is the University’s highest priority.  We are committed to furthering the academic progress we have made over the last several years.

The University’s 2011-12 Budget Request reflects this priority.  It emphasizes investment in our academic core: full-time faculty, academic programs, research opportunities, academic support services, and information management and technology capacity.

This year’s request represents the sixth year of the University’s financing approach, the CUNY Compact, which has made possible so much of CUNY’s academic renewal.  The compact calls for shared partnership between government and the University—with government covering mandatory costs and the University addressing investment initiatives through philanthropy, efficiencies, and partnerships.  In these lean times, the University has aggressively pursued initiatives to gain internal savings, increase fundraising, build public-private partnerships to develop facilities, and collaborate with business and industry to create new revenue opportunities.  As I have said before, our public universities must now be entrepreneurial universities.

The compact model also emphasizes a rational tuition policy, one that calls for modest, predictable increases and that protects our neediest students.  CUNY has led the way in voicing the importance of a rational tuition policy.  Going forward, the question is how such structural reform can be implemented in public higher education.  One consideration may be a policy that positions tuition as part of the investment vehicle for the four-year Master Plans prepared by the University and approved by the state.  Such a policy would recognize tuition as one of the revenue streams used to meet the approved plan’s financial obligations.  Tuition is then predictable and rationally tied to an institution’s academic objectives—objectives developed specifically to benefit students.

All of us at CUNY appreciate that the State Executive Budget calls for full funding of the University’s mandatory costs, consistent with the CUNY Compact, and also recognizes the five percent tuition increase for spring 2011 approved by our Board of Trustees.  I thank the governor for his sensitivity in maintaining mandatory costs during a very difficult time and for his understanding of the need for a more rational way to deal with tuition.  The executive budget also leaves whole the Tuition Assistance Program, which is an increasingly critical resource for struggling families.

For CUNY’s senior colleges, the budget proposes a reduction in state aid of more than $83 million.  It also further reduces state aid by almost $12 million to help cover a shortfall of $300 million from last year.  For our community colleges, the executive budget recommends a 10 percent base-aid reduction per FTE.  After accounting for a small increase from enrollment growth, the resulting decrease to the community colleges is more than $15 million.

With the proposals in this year’s executive budget, reductions at our senior colleges since FY2009 now total $300 million.  At the community colleges, cuts total almost $55 million.  All told, CUNY’s reductions since FY2009 total $355 million—or almost 14 percent of our proposed FY2012 funding level of $2.6 billion.

We clearly understand the state’s difficult fiscal situation.  At the same time, there is no question that cumulative cuts of this magnitude affect our operations.  Hiring full-time faculty has been one of our highest priorities; they are the backbone of the University.  We have worked diligently over the last several years to build back a severely depleted faculty corps, adding more than 1,200 full-time faculty over the last decade.  But in the last year or two, those numbers have flattened as resources shrink and retirements grow.  Enrollment, however, remains at record levels.  The result is fewer full-time faculty for more students—a trend no university can sustain.  We must prevent any loss of the gains we have worked so hard to achieve.

For our capital program, the executive budget recommends another $284 million allocation to our senior colleges and almost $32 million to our community colleges for critical maintenance projects.  We are grateful for this attention to our urgent maintenance needs.  Upkeep and upgrades are essential, especially now, when more students means more wear and tear.

We are also grateful for the appropriations allocated in previous budgets for major construction projects under way across the University, including the Lois V. and Samuel J. Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College in East Harlem, the new Fiterman Hall at Borough of Manhattan Community College, the building expansion at John Jay College, and the North Instructional Building at Bronx Community College.  We also recently purchased a new site for the CUNY School of Law in Long Island City, Queens, and are moving forward with construction for a 2012 opening.

I am proud that we are maximizing these state funds through public-private partnerships.  Several facilities—whether the School of Social Work, the law school, or our residential halls at CCNY and Queens College—were made possible through innovative collaborations with private developers and other entities.

I do want to note a potential impediment to CUNY’s future building program.  The University agreed with the Division of Budget on a completion plan for many important projects at CUNY that were actively in construction in 2007—many of which were decades in the making—to be completed.  We need the support of the executive and legislature to green-light these capital projects, which address vital campus needs.  A long lull in capital work at a time when our campuses are at capacity would affect academic operations well into the future, from the number of sections offered to the availability of courses.

What’s more, construction projects mean jobs in New York City.  For every $10 million spent in construction, it is estimated that 60 jobs are created at the job site and 30 additional jobs offsite in materials fabrication, on an annual basis.  With your support, CUNY has created thousands of good jobs across the city through its capital program.

I should also note that one major project not funded in the executive budget is the new academic building at New York City College of Technology.  This important shovel-ready project will add 350,000 square feet of essential instructional and lab space to the campus, and funding would enable construction to start this year.

All of us at the University are acutely aware of the challenges faced by New York State and, indeed, by states across the country.  We also know that these challenges can only be met by an educated, innovative workforce and by the public universities that create the state’s skilled professionals and entrepreneurs.

Better-educated people live longer, are healthier, earn more, have better job security, and are more civically engaged.  Where but our universities can we develop a creative, inquisitive, enterprising citizenry?  Let’s not forget the fundamental purposes of our higher education institutions.  Immersing ourselves in deep and sustained study enables us to better understand our world and our responsibilities as citizens.  Advanced education builds greater perspective and empathy, broadens our notions of what’s possible, teaches us to ask questions and formulate answers, and heightens our forms of expression.  It builds the whole person—it fires our imaginations, fuels our humanity, and instills a lifelong curiosity.  Today, as our state and our country face unprecedented local and global challenges, we must protect the one institution created to serve the public good and improve our collective future: the university.

As President Obama emphasized in his State of the Union address last month, “We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world.”  This is particularly true today, when, as the president said, “[o]ver the next 10 years, nearly half of all new jobs will require education that goes beyond a high school education.”  In New York, Governor Cuomo made clear in his presentation of the State Executive Budget the three things the state needs to grow out of its economic difficulties: “jobs, jobs, jobs.”

The City University of New York is preparing New Yorkers for those jobs.  What’s more, we’re helping to create those jobs.  In fact, CUNY is one of the single most important engines moving our city and state forward.

Every university will talk about its role in economic development.  But at CUNY, “workforce development” and “job creation” are not platitudes.  At the University, we recognized long ago that we needed to be active participants in shaping the labor market and preparing and credentialing New Yorkers—not only to improve the lives of our students, who are the current and future workers, but also to improve the quality of jobs and services provided to and by New Yorkers, whether high tech or entry level.

For example, over the last decade alone, research funding at the University has tripled.  We are home to world-class researchers and to new entities like the CUNY Energy Institute at City College, created in 2008.  The institute is developing advanced technologies to reduce oil imports and increase the efficiency and use of domestic energy resources.  Over the last two years alone, the institute has raised nearly $20 million in funding, supported 30 doctoral students, and created 20 knowledge-based jobs in New York.  Technology developed by the institute will lead to several commercial enterprises that will result in many more jobs.  Two enterprises are already in the planning stages.

At the same time, the University has implemented a “green buildings” initiative to train workers for entry-level jobs and career advancement opportunities.  For example, a “Green Maintenance for Buildings” program, with funding from the Robin Hood Foundation, provides training for positions in building operations with an emphasis on energy efficiency.   Every one of the program’s first 39 graduates has received at least one job interview.

The University has taken this kind of comprehensive approach in other fields.  In the health care sector, for example, which represents about 11 percent of all jobs in New York City, CUNY’s responsibility is to prepare a sufficient number of qualified personnel to meet the health-care needs of the city’s residents.

  • To that end, the University has created a new School of Public Health to train practitioners and researchers in urban health issues like asthma and diabetes.
  • We have developed a longstanding collaboration with the largest health care union in New York City, enabling more than 6,000 union members to enroll in CUNY programs every year.
  • And we have graduated nearly 12,000 associate- and baccalaureate-level nurses over the last 12 years.

In other areas, such as small business development, the University is helping to create future jobs.  We have awarded more than 73,000 business degrees over the last decade alone.

  • At CUNY’s Baruch College, the Field Center for Entrepreneurship, which began as a lab to help city residents start businesses, has served 10,000 clients, secured more than $83 million in debt and equity financing, saved more than 1,700 jobs, and created another 2,200 jobs.
  • Small business entrepreneurs are also getting a boost from CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College, which was the first education partner selected for Goldman Sachs’ 10,000 Small Businesses Initiative.  LaGuardia’s program helps small business owners develop growth plans.  Participating businesses in the first cohort have already hired an additional 63 people and garnered more than $2 million in contracts.
  • And CUNY’s New York City College of Technology is part of a consortium that Verizon approached to develop talent for the technology jobs of the future.  Working with the communication workers union, City Tech developed a cutting-edge program that positions participants for career advancement opportunities.  Their gain is also Verizon’s gain; the company stays competitive with skilled workers who grow as the industry grows.  The program has already served about 550 participants.

Name any other sector important to New York, and CUNY is creating the jobs, workers, and innovative practices that sustain it: hospitality, the arts, media, finance, information technology, and many more.  A three-decade sampling of CUNY baccalaureate recipients found 85 percent of them still living in New York State, repaying the investment in their higher education many times over.

CUNY is an unparalleled force in New York’s labor market.  But going forward, that essential role will surely be compromised by the continued decline of public support for the University.

New York’s best economic policy is to have an educated citizenry: the entrepreneurs and change agents, the talented and innovative workforce, the public servants.  States across the country are looking for an answer—some catalytic event, a game changer—in order to spark economic growth.  But New York’s economic stimulus is already here: it’s our public universities.  Supporting their work is the best investment in the future that New York can make.

Chairperson DeFrancisco, Chairman Farrell, and members of the committees, all of us at CUNY are grateful for your longtime support of CUNY and public higher education in New York.  These are undoubtedly challenging times, but we are confident that by working in partnership with you, CUNY can continue to be a powerful vehicle for New York’s economic and social revitalization.  Thank you.