Testimony submitted to the New York City Council Finance and Higher Education Committees on the 2014 City Executive Budget

May 10, 2013 | 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 today about the Mayor’s 2014 Executive Budget.

I’d like to begin with a note of thanks.  For the past 14 years, it has been my pleasure to work with all of you on behalf of The City University of New York and its seven community colleges.  As a result of your steadfast partnership, we have been able to make great strides during that time.  I am very grateful for your support and would like to point out just some of the ways it has been essential to CUNY’s resurgence.

With your support, we’ve strengthened our partnership with the New York City Department of Education in order to improve student readiness for college.  Today, nearly 20,000 public-school students participate annually in the College Now program, the nation’s largest dual enrollment program.  We’ve worked with the DOE to create three specialized high schools at City, Lehman, and York colleges and 14 early college high schools, including the Pathways in Technology Early College High School (P-Tech), developed with IBM and CUNY’s New York City College of Technology.   And the Graduate NYC! initiative, another CUNY-DOE partnership, has been developed to increase student readiness, participation, and success in college.  I know all of the City Council members here today are actively working to promote greater college readiness.  We should be encouraged by the fact that more public-school students are choosing CUNY than ever before—in fact, seven of 10 of the University’s first-time freshmen graduated from a city public high school.

Overall, we’ve experienced record numbers of students coming to the University.  Today, we serve nearly 270,000 degree-seeking students and 220,000 individuals in adult and continuing education.  That includes more than 96,000 degree-seeking students and 135,000 adult and continuing education students at our community colleges.  Enrollment growth at our community colleges has been particularly robust, increasing by 55 percent since 1999, when I began as chancellor.  With your help, we’ve been able to expand the class sections, library resources, and academic services these students need to succeed.  Your support has also enabled us to hire nearly 2,000 new full-time faculty across the University since I began, expanding our instructional capability and the quality of the classroom experience.

We’re also seeing more and more high-achieving students coming to CUNY.  Average SAT scores of admitted students have increased, as have the number of CUNY students winning nationally competitive student awards, such as Rhodes, Truman, and Marshall scholarships—including this year’s record 24 graduating seniors and alumni who won National Science Foundation graduate fellowships.

The council has also been instrumental in helping us develop ways to enhance student progress.  Early work with the ASAP initiative (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) demonstrated its strong potential—a three-year graduation rate of 55 percent, compared to the national average of 16 percent for urban two-year colleges.  That success led to an expansion of the program to all of our community colleges.  We also developed a new community college, the first in New York City in more than 40 years.  We were all very pleased that the CUNY Board of Trustees named the college Stella and Charles Guttman Community College, thanks to a transformative $25 million gift from the Guttman Foundation—one of the largest gifts ever to a community college.  A key point about the gift is that it includes not only $15 million to the college but also a $9 million scholarship endowment to encourage student transfer to our senior colleges, as well as $1 million to the ASAP initiative.  That’s a very gratifying sign of confidence in all of our community colleges.  The foundation’s commitment to community college education—something all of you have long championed—is welcome news for the entire city.

Lastly, I want to thank you for being an outstanding partner in CUNY’s extensive capital program.  It’s not an exaggeration to say that your support is transforming the city.  As of last year, 20 percent of all construction in New York City is CUNY-related.  Our $2.3 billion in spending over the last six years on our construction program has generated an estimated 14,000 jobs as a result.  Every borough has seen significant progress in the modernization of its facilities, and every campus has made capital improvements, including critical maintenance work.  The most recent additions—a new Fiterman Hall at Borough of Manhattan Community College and the new library and academic building at Bronx Community College—demonstrate what a marked difference modern facilities make both to the campuses and to the communities they serve.  The same is true of the new modern facilities for the CUNY Law School and John Jay College of Criminal Justice, opened recently with support from the state.  Of course, the job isn’t complete—CUNY dates back to 1847, after all, and the average building is over 50 years old.  But with your ongoing help, I know that our capital program will continue to transform our students’ experiences and the vibrancy of the city itself.

I hope you take as much pride in this progress as I do.  It is the result of your belief in the importance of higher education and the CUNY mission, and I’m pleased to have a chance today to thank you in person for your partnership.  Chairperson Recchia and Chairperson Rodriguez, your support has been particularly gratifying, and I want to thank you both for your consistently strong advocacy of the University.

Operating Budget

Turning to the year ahead, the 2014 Executive Budget adds $22.7 million to the community college operating budget pursuant to the maintenance of effort provision, and includes $23 million to reflect the 2014 tuition increase.

To put this in historical context, the recession led to a significant decline in public resources, at a time when enrollment reached record levels.  Since fiscal year 2009, state base aid rate for community colleges decreased by 15 percent, which is over $400 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student.  So we were pleased that the FY2014 State Adopted Budget included a $150 increase in per-FTE student base aid.

On the city side, total funding for the community colleges has remained relatively flat over the past three fiscal years, increasing by only $1.7 million, which represents less than a 1 percent increase.  Over this same time frame, community college enrollment has grown by over 7 percent.  Mandatory costs, such as fringe benefits, energy, and contractual salary increments, also continue to increase annually.  The result has been a significant drain on the spending capacity of our community colleges.

Tuition revenue has provided some additional resources.  The dollars generated by the $300 tuition increase this past fall semester are being utilized by our campuses to ensure that students receive the direct impact of the funds.  Investments have been made in full-time faculty positions, academic programs and support, academic technology, student services, libraries, workforce development, research, and financial aid.  Plans on how to utilize the additional revenue were developed by the individual community colleges, in consultation with elected student and faculty leaders.

However, to address the increased financial impact on students, we must also consider appropriate financial aid resources, as we have had in the past with the Safety Net program and the Vallone Scholarships.  In the current fiscal year, the University has dedicated $5 million from the revenue generated by the fall 2012 tuition increase to assist students who are at risk of not being able to continue matriculation because of the tuition increase. This Student Financial Assistance Initiative includes support for the acquisition of textbooks, an enhancement to the federal work study program, and tuition waivers for those students who are at the greatest financial risk.  For the 2013-14 academic year, we plan to double the commitment to this initiative, for a total of $10 million.

Requested Restorations

Unfortunately, funding was not provided in the executive budget for a few key programs that have demonstrated their importance to both the University and the city.  Our Citizenship Now program provides assistance to New Yorkers on a wide range of immigration issues, through legal services, immigration fairs, and citizenship events.  Its annual call-in week, which just competed its 11th year, has helped more than 100,000 people navigate the pathway to citizenship, including 13,000 people during this year’s event alone.  As calls for immigration reform grow, the program has become an increasingly important resource for thousands of people across the city.  I’ve seen firsthand what a remarkable impact the program has had.  For so many trying to manage the confusing road to citizenship, the program’s many volunteers and hard-working staff provide a lifeline to a better future.

In addition, the executive budget did not include funding for the Dominican Studies Institute and the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, each of which is a leading national center for historical and cultural research.  The Creative Arts Team, which provides learning opportunities for at-risk students, and the Joseph S. Murphy Institute’s campus-based worker education programs were also unfunded.  Your assistance in restoring funding for these important programs is greatly appreciated.

We were also puzzled and concerned to learn that funding for the Black Male Initiative was not included in the executive budget.  We understood that this City Council-funded initiative had been baselined in the FY2013 City Adopted Budget.  However, the FY2014 Executive Budget does not reflect that.  We ask for your assistance in revisiting the decision to baseline $2.25 million for the Black Male Initiative.  A permanent source of funding would enable continuity and long-term planning in our work to support the increased participation and success of under-represented groups in higher education, particularly black men.  It would also send an important signal to external funding agencies that the initiative is being supported on an ongoing basis.

Requested Enhancements

I’d also like to note a few key programs that would enable the University to expand services to students in some critical areas.

The University has been working effectively with Single Stop USA, which has developed an innovative program to help the working poor access available funds and services.  Through a single outlet, low-income students can get financial counseling, free tax preparation, and legal assistance.  Last year, Single Stop helped more than 31,000 students with services valued at over $66 million.  With an office on each community college campus, the program is able to reach students who might otherwise fall behind or drop out for financial reasons.  A small amount of funding would enable us to expand the program to include York College and Medgar Evers College, which also have large concentrations of low-income students.

In addition, the University is partnering with IBM on a STEM project supported by a National Science Foundation grant.  The grant targets two programs: a summer bridge program for community college transfer students and a senior thesis project combined with an IBM internship at our senior colleges.  The grant offers an outstanding opportunity to enrich the STEM pipeline and increase the number of students graduating with STEM degrees, which continues to be a high priority at CUNY.  To take full advantage of that opportunity, the University is requesting matching funds from the city in order to double the number of participating students.

Two other new programs are included in the University’s request.  The first is a Haitian Studies Institute, focused on research, scholarship, and community engagement with the Haitian community, which has been growing throughout the city and the state.  Planning funds would enable us to begin the work of establishing the institute.  The second item is a scholarship program for the Joseph S. Murphy Institute, which focuses on educational programs in labor studies and public policy.  In order to increase the diversity of labor’s leadership ranks, the institute is developing a scholarship program to encourage students from underrepresented groups to pursue advanced study.  The program recognizes the changing demographic of the workforce and the need to foster leadership that better reflects that workforce.

Capital Program

Turning to our capital program, there is no change in the capital plan in the executive budget.  However, the budget does include the four years of funding that the City Council negotiated with the mayor’s office to match existing state funds available for community colleges.  These funds will enable projects to be initiated over the next four years at all the community college campuses and will allow CUNY to complete several large, challenging critical maintenance projects.

For example, this summer we will be ready to bid the enormous façade for LaGuardia Community College’s Center 3 Building.  Because of a lack of funding, we had originally planned to phase this project.  But thanks to the City Council and the city’s commitment in the FY2013 budget, CUNY can now plan and bid the work all at once, saving money and expediting completion.  Other major projects that will benefit from this funding are Bronx Community College’s ongoing major utility upgrades, roof replacements at several colleges, including Kingsborough Community College, construction of a new dining facility and kitchen at Queensborough Community College, and renovation of the 500 Grand Concourse Building at Hostos Community College.

Our critical maintenance program continues to be a major capital priority.  As I mentioned, the council’s consistent support has been essential to our ability to address major health and safety issues and deferred maintenance on the community college campuses.  That said, we are still in need of your support for this long-term effort.  Our community college facilities comprise over 7 million square feet, and nearly three-quarters of it is at least 40 years old. This year, approximately $360 million in identified projects need funding.

On the state side, the governor’s executive budget provides a very restrained plan for CUNY.  The community colleges received $8 million for critical maintenance.  Also in the budget is a $55 million challenge grant for a new program called CUNY 2020, which supports large-scale capital projects based on their economic impact, advancement of academic goals, and degree of innovation and collaboration.  All CUNY schools will have the opportunity to compete for funding.  Projects will be submitted by CUNY and selected by CUNY and the state.  Future years of the state budget call for CUNY 2020 to be funded at $55 million a year and critical maintenance at the community colleges to continue to be funded at $10 million a year.

One of our highest capital priorities this year is funding for a new Allied Health and Sciences Building at Hostos Community College.  We are pleased to report that this project received initial financial support from the Bronx Borough President in the executive budget.  We would like to begin design of this 170,000-square-foot building, which will provide modern classrooms and science labs for the college’s programs in dental hygiene, radiological technology, and nursing, as well as its growing engineering and natural science programs. The building will provide dental and wellness clinics, where students will gain practical experience and the public will receive dental hygiene and wellness education.

Let me also provide a few updates.  The first regards the repair work required as a result of damage by Hurricane Sandy.  Initial repairs at Kingsborough Community College and Borough of Manhattan Community College were quickly completed, and the colleges were immediately re-opened.  But more work is needed to repair structures damaged both inside and out by the flood surge and high winds.

Hunter College’s Brookdale campus was harder hit and its building systems suffered extensive damage.  The dorms and nursing programs re-opened in December, and other programs have since opened this spring.  Some programs have been moved to Hunter’s main campus permanently.

We are working with the state, city, and Dormitory Authority to file necessary insurance claims and secure funding the colleges are eligible for under our policy and FEMA.  Initial insurance funds have been received on CUNY’s behalf by the Dormitory Authority.  We estimate that the longer-term capital repairs required will take one and a half years to complete.

And let me offer two final updates.  At Stella and Charles Guttman Community College, located in leased space on 40th Street, you will remember that the council gave funds for the conversion of two rooms to science labs.  The conversion is underway, and the labs will be ready for use in fall 2013.  And last summer, the CUNY in the Heights program moved into new leased space in Upper Manhattan, space that was secured and built out with the $2 million the council generously provided, along with a state grant.  CUNY in the Heights is proving so popular that we are now hoping to open 3,800 additional square feet by year’s end to accommodate demand.

Chairperson Recchia, Chairperson Rodriguez, and members, on behalf of all of us at CUNY, let me thank you again for your support of CUNY.  Your partnership has enabled a transformation that few thought possible.  We’re very grateful for it and look forward to working closely with you on the budget in the weeks ahead.  Thank you.