Testimony prepared for the New York City Council Finance and Higher Education Committees on the 2012 City Executive Budget

June 3, 2011 | Speeches and Testimony

Good afternoon, Chairperson Recchia, Chairperson Rodriguez, and members of the Finance and Higher Education committees.  Thank you for the opportunity to speak with you today about the Mayor’s 2012 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 Félix Matos Rodriguez of Hostos, President Regina Peruggi of Kingsborough, President Gail Mellow of LaGuardia, and Vice President for Institutional Advancement Rosemary Zins of Queensborough.  Bronx Community College’s senior leadership is in attendance at the college’s commencement today. 

I am joined at the table by Senior Vice Chancellor for Budget, Finance and Fiscal Policy Marc Shaw, Associate Vice Chancellor for Budget and Finance Matthew Sapienza, Director of Capital Budget Gwen Perlman, and Director of the CUNY Black Male Initiative Elliott Dawes.

I am also pleased to introduce Frank Sanchez, CUNY’s new vice chancellor for student affairs, who was previously associate vice chancellor for student affairs at the University of Colorado Denver and is completing his second semester with us.

Let me begin by thanking all of you for your support of CUNY’s operating and capital budget needs.  Over the years, your partnership has helped our students immeasurably.

I come to you at what I know is a difficult time for the city, as New Yorkers, and the city itself, are still suffering from the effects of our national recession.  CUNY is proud to play a key role in the city’s recovery and revitalization.  Two-thirds of the associate degrees conferred by two-year colleges in New York City were awarded by CUNY.  Within six months of receiving their degrees, 94 percent of CUNY’s associate graduates are employed or continuing their education.  What’s more, 85 percent of our community college graduates stay in the state, contributing to its workforce and tax base.  Clearly, a CUNY education is an investment that pays significant dividends to both graduates and to the city they serve.

As you know, demand for the University continues to grow.  Our enrollments are at record levels: 91,000 at our community colleges.  In the last five years alone, enrollment at our six community colleges has increased by more than 23 percent—the equivalent of adding another LaGuardia Community College to our system. 

We are gratified that more and more New Yorkers are seeking a CUNY education; these increases are a clear indication of the quality and value that CUNY offers.  Our community colleges are helping New Yorkers through job-training programs in growth areas like health care; through transitional programs for employees who have lost their jobs; and through programs to help workers in fields such as hospitality and real estate gain new credentials in order to stay competitive.

We also continue to focus on enhancing CUNY’s historic role of serving immigrants.  We are pleased to partner with many councilmembers to help members of their district with citizenship issues.  Last month we also held the ninth annual CUNY/Daily News Citizenship Now! call-in, which makes available trained counselors to answer immigration questions for free.  To date, the call-in has helped nearly 100,000 people navigate the complex path to achieving citizenship.

Because CUNY is serving so many New Yorkers in key areas, cuts to its community colleges have a significant impact on students, community members, and the city.  We are particularly grateful to the council for the $4 million current-year restoration to the preliminary budget.  However, the 2012 Executive Budget recommends support for the community colleges of $236.4 million, which is $20.2 million less than the current FY2011 budget.  The reductions include $21.4 million in operating support from prior years, as well as new PEG initiatives of $23.8 million, for a total of $45.2 million.  These operating-budget reductions are partially offset by mandatory cost increases for expenses such as energy, fringe benefits, pensions, and building rentals.  As you know, the maintenance of effort provision requires the city to provide at least the same level of support to community colleges as the previous year. 

Let there be no question about the harmful effects of the continued decline of city funding for the University and the importance of restoring the $45.2 million in operating support.  Over the last three years, from FY2009 to FY2012, city funding per FTE student has decreased by 15 percent.  That is, at a time when CUNY must expand programs and services to meet the needs of more students, we are faced with a significant loss in per-student funding.  This is not a formula for success.

This decline is bound to have long-term consequences in our ability to maintain full-time faculty and make available the necessary course sections and academic services.  I’m sure you agree that we cannot ask our students to shoulder the brunt of these funding decreases in the form of large tuition increases.  This is why we continue to advocate for a rational tuition policy and the full maintenance of financial aid through the CUNY Compact model.  We must be able to sustain access to high-quality educational opportunities for our students regardless of the vagaries of the economy.

I am very proud of the diligent work by our presidents and faculty to maintain high academic standards in order to ensure the value of a CUNY degree.  Because the benefits of earning a degree are so clear—both to the student and to the city—we continue to focus on increasing graduation rates at our community colleges. 

Notable among our efforts is the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs initiative, or ASAP.  Thanks to the mayor and the City Council, this innovative program is achieving great success.  As you know, ASAP offers financial and academic support to improve graduation rates and job prospects for community-college students.  CUNY set an ambitious target of 50 percent of ASAP students graduating within three years.  ASAP not only met but surpassed this original target, with 55 percent of the fall 2007 cohort earning an associate degree within three years in 2010.  This is more than three times the national three-year graduation rate of 16 percent for urban community colleges.

The ASAP model—with its limited number of majors, structured advising, and clear pathways to degrees—is informing the development of our New Community College in Manhattan, set to open in summer 2012.  In February, the CUNY Board of Trustees approved resolutions to establish the college and its programs of study.  The State Education Department intends to ask the Board of Regents to take up approval of the NCC at its June meeting.  This is a rare opportunity to build an entirely new college, the first at CUNY in more than four decades.  There is no more urgent task in higher education than to find ways to help more community college students succeed in earning their degrees and transitioning into the labor market.

That’s also the reason we continue to prioritize our extensive collaborations with the New York City Department of Education.  Early preparation is a crucial factor for college success, and our partnership with the DOE is focused on preparing more students to attend and graduate from college.  This includes our College Now program, the largest urban dual enrollment program in the country, as well as our Graduate NYC! initiative, which aims to increase the number of DOE graduates prepared for college, thereby increasing retention and graduation rates at CUNY.  We are very pleased to work closely with Chancellor Walcott, who shares our sense of urgency about improving student success.

Our enrollment increases have also had a significant impact on our capital program, as demand for space grows and the wear and tear on our buildings accelerates.  The council has been an invaluable partner to our community colleges, providing important support to our health and safety projects, and to major projects such as Fiterman Hall and the new North Instructional Building at Bronx Community College.  Your partnership has also helped CUNY support the city’s economic recovery by creating construction jobs when they are most needed.  We estimate that for every $10 million spent in construction, approximately 60 jobs are created at the job site, and 30 additional jobs are created off-site in materials fabrication, on an annual basis.  With your support, CUNY’s capital program has already created thousands of good jobs across the city.

However, nearly 75 percent of our community college facilities are at least 40 years old.  In 2007, a comprehensive analysis of the critical maintenance needs at all of our colleges revealed that funding in the hundreds of millions would be required to bring our community colleges into a state of good repair.

In response, three years ago the state allocated critical maintenance funds to the community colleges.  As you know, funds provided by the state to our community colleges cannot be used unless they are matched 50/50 by the city.  The state made it clear that its allocation had been limited because it expected the allocation again to go unmatched by the city. 

Last year, the city agreed to allocate funds.  I thank the council for its generous allocation of $29 million to all CUNY colleges for FY 2011, which provides $20 million in funding for critical maintenance projects at the community colleges.

This year, we are requesting $50 million in lump sum funding for critical maintenance projects at the community colleges.  This funding, when matched with state funds, will allow us to continue our crucial work across the campuses to ensure the health and safety of all those who use our facilities.

Each of our colleges must also address urgent needs specific to their campus facilities.  Let me offer some examples:

At LaGuardia Community College, the Center 3 building’s terra-cotta façade is nearly 100 years old and in poor condition.  It needs to be replaced if the building is to be preserved.  Replacement is estimated to cost $118 million, to be implemented over three phases of work.  We have secured funding for the project design and Phase I construction, and must secure the additional $41 million in city funding alone that is needed to complete the project.

At Hostos Community College, a complete renovation of the five-story Grand Concourse facility is under way.  The first floor is completed, the fifth floor is currently in construction, and the remaining floors will be upgraded as funding allows.

At Bronx Community College, we have begun a critical project to upgrade the campus central plant and its heating, cooling, and electrical distribution infrastructure.  The design and initial phase of construction, costing $50 million, are funded, thanks in part to your help.  Completing this essential project will require an additional $45 million in city funding alone.

Most of the buildings at Kingsborough Community College are about 40 years old, and the campus faces a number of significant infrastructure issues, including upgrades to the fire alarm system, roof replacements, and upgrades to several electrical and heating/cooling systems.

At Borough of Manhattan Community College, we must address several projects at the 199 Chambers Street building, including upgrades to approximately 60 restrooms to ensure ADA compliance, upgrades to the gymnasium air conditioning system, and replacement of deteriorated windows with new energy-efficient ones.

Finally, at Queensborough Community College, the critical electrical system upgrades have been funded in part with your help, and Phase I of the project is ready to begin design.  Other infrastructure needs include roof replacements, ADA-accessibility upgrades to the campus theater, and creation of a new dining room and kitchen facility.

Members of the committees, the funding you have provided is a start toward achieving a state of good repair on our community college campuses, and we are grateful for your support.  We hope that the future will bring a five-year capital plan for CUNY that will provide a mechanism for addressing the funding of ongoing maintenance projects.

The executive budget also eliminates funding for Vallone Scholarships ($6.0 million), the Black Male Initiative ($2.3 million), various centers and institutes ($500,000), and the Creative Arts Team ($400,000).  I ask for the council’s assistance in restoring funding for these essential academic support programs.  In particular, the Vallone scholarships offer important support to high-achieving city students, encouraging them to remain in the city for their college education. 

In addition, the University’s Black Male Initiative (BMI) has taken a leading role in encouraging the retention of under-represented groups in higher education, with 29 student development projects across our campuses, including counseling programs, speakers and mentors, and workshops, open to all students at CUNY.  Initiatives have ranged from free SAT summer classes to re-entry programs for those formerly incarcerated to a Teachers as Leaders initiative to encourage students from under-represented populations to consider careers as New York City public school teachers.  We are deeply committed to the Black Male Initiative as a means of addressing the urgent need to foster greater participation and success in higher education.  As we begin to develop the CUNY Master Plan for 2012-16, I have asked Frank Sanchez, vice chancellor for student affairs, Elliott Dawes, director of the Black Male Initiative, and others to collaborate on the next phase of the BMI: the development of a proposal for a BMI institute focused on advanced research that would elevate this effort to a national level.  With that in mind, it is especially important that funding for the current BMI be restored.  It is central not only to CUNY’s mission but to the mission of public higher education: to ensure that academic opportunities are accessible to all.

Chairperson Recchia, Chairperson Rodriguez, and members of the committees, I know you share our commitment to helping New Yorkers through difficult economic times.  We deeply appreciate your continued support and look forward to working with you to meet the needs of our students and our city.