Creative Solutions To Financial ‘What-Ifs’

February 14, 2011 | CUNY Matters

With a fiscally strapped state and city cutting financial support as spring enrollment trends show a record demand, Chancellor Matthew Goldstein showcased the University’s pivotal role in workforce development as the U.S. economy wobbles back from the Great Recession. He also urged support for an innovative entrepreneurial approach to generating income to support and grow vital services.

“We’re not just creating new jobs; we’re creating quality jobs,” the chancellor noted in remarks to the Citizens Budget Commission. There are new associate-degree programs in health information technology; a new graduate School of Public Health to train skilled practitioners and researchers in urban health issues like asthma and diabetes; and a collaboration with Local 1199 SEIU Health Workers East that enables more than 6,000 union members to enroll in classes each year. CUNY has graduated nearly 12,000 associate- and baccalaureate-level nurses over the last 12 years. It also has helped incubate and start small businesses.

Advanced research funding has tripled over the last decade. The CUNY Energy Institute at City College in the past two years alone has raised $20 million, supported 30 doctoral students and created 20 knowledge-based jobs — and the technology it develops will lead to many more jobs. Meanwhile, with funding from the Robin Hood Foundation, a “green maintenance for buildings” program trains people for entry-level positions that emphasize energy efficiency; every one of the first 39 graduates received at least one job interview. The city Department of Education and Local 32 BJ asked CUNY to train their superintendents — 1,000 each — in green building operations.

The chancellor noted that just as University researchers are engaged in inquiry that can lead to new commercialization, so, too, must University leaders engage in inquiry that might lead to new revenue streams. “This is a time when the same spirit of ‘what if?’ that drives our academic research must also drive our approach to financing,” he said. “Universities must become incubators of new ideas, reorienting themselves to a new environment of institutional entrepreneurism.”

The chancellor offered these examples of an entrepreneurial University that will help meet the financial challenges ahead:

• Public-private partnerships offer incentives to all partners and can enable much-needed facilities expansions or upgrades, such as the new home for the Hunter College School of Social Work and the CUNY School of Public Health in East Harlem. Elsewhere, the University and developers hope to provide apartments for faculty and staff — and perhaps K-12 teachers and other public employees. The University is exploring the possibility of leveraging the site of the soon-to-be-shuttered North Building at John Jay College of Criminal Justice for a mixed-use tower that, in part, would house CUNY’s new community college.

• The University has teamed up with IBM and the city Department of Education to cut DOE’s costs by switching to e-textbooks in K-12 classrooms. CUNY intends to generate revenue — and better prepare students for higher education — by developing supplementary programs and marketing them to school districts across the country. A pilot effort started in February with Stuyvesant High School freshmen.

• Answering Mayor Bloomberg’s call to engineering universities worldwide to create a job-generating applied sciences research facility on city-owned land that could rival Silicon Valley, CUNY is exploring whether to make a joint proposal with Columbia University, Cornell University, The Cooper Union, NYU’s Polytechnic Institute and Mt. Sinai School of Medicine.

All “ideas that incentivize revenue are urgently needed, especially now, as both governments and families struggle to regain ground,” Goldstein said, noting that while state and city budgets for FY 2012 remain unsettled, support for higher education clearly is at risk. The state alone faces a nearly $10 billion deficit, rising health care costs and the end of federal stimulus money.

State aid for CUNY’s senior colleges fell by more than $200 million over the past three years. CUNY’s community colleges lost $29 million in state aid over the past two years, plus $8 million in city support this year. The reductions equal 9.5 percent of the University’s current $2.6 billion budget; government supplies about 60 percent of the budget, while tuition accounts for 40 percent. For the upcoming fiscal year, the state executive budget proposes reductions at around 10 percent. Although the Board of Trustees had to raise tuition by 5 percent for this spring, Goldstein said, “CUNY is still the most affordable quality undergraduate choice in the New York metropolitan area.”

Meanwhile, demand grows for a City University education.

A record 13,903 students attended the winter session, 1,428 (11.4 percent) more than last year. The biggest increases were at John Jay and Hunter Colleges, along with Borough of Manhattan and Queens-borough Community Colleges, according to Robert A. Ptachik, senior University dean for the executive office and enrollment.

The number of admitted students also reached an all-time high for the spring, following a record-breaking fall enrollment. The University admitted 12,911 new freshmen this spring. Medgar Evers College and LaGuardia, Bronx and Borough of Manhattan Community Colleges saw the largest increases. The number of well-prepared students — those with averages greater than 80 — increased by about 40 percent compared with last spring’s entering freshman class.

Transfer students from outside CUNY continue to recognize “The CUNY Value” — the University’s outstanding academic programs and affordable costs (see centerfold, pages 6-7). There were one-third more transfer applications — about 7,000, compared to 5,200 last year. Most sought admission to Baruch, Hunter and York Colleges, along with LaGuardia, Bronx, Hostos and Borough of Manhattan Community Colleges.

James Murphy, University associate dean of enrollment, told the City Council Higher Education Committee in January that he expects more increases for fall 2011 in transfer and freshman applications. Ptachik offered another indicator for the quality of the fall’s students: Applications to the Macaulay Honors College stand at 4,114 — 3 percent more than the number at this time last year.