What Keeps Us So Affordable?

February 14, 2011 | CUNY Matters

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The City University of New York offers one of the greatest values in higher education today, equipping record numbers of students with a quality, affordable education, invigorating the city and state economies and guaranteeing New York a talented, well trained and stable work force. The latest figures show CUNY’s value to New York and New Yorkers is stronger than ever, despite prolonged financial stress that has reduced government support.

A pillar of the city and state economies with roots stretching back more than 150 years, the University has carefully prepared for the hypercompetitive 21st century. Over the past decade, CUNY has raised academic standards, stabilized and creatively jump-started revenue streams and upgraded science laboratories and other essential facets of its 23 institutions.

All this costs money. Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has been praised in Albany for conceiving the CUNY Compact for Public Higher Education, a financing model that shares responsibilities among the state and city governments, students, philanthropists and the University. For its part, the University met an initial $1.2 billion fundraising goal and is now working toward a $3 billion target. Meanwhile, it seeks innovative ways to generate revenue, including public-private partnerships ranging from research to real estate.

Data recently compiled by the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment and other sources underscore CUNY’s value as an essential driver of New York’s economy, as well as the dreams, aspirations and financial futures of New Yorkers.

An Outstanding Investment For Students and Families

The key word is affordability. It’s no secret that it costs less to attend a campus of The City University of New York. But CUNY is not just affordable, it’s also an outstanding investment compared to other public and private institutions in the metropolitan area.

Federal and state financial aid keep CUNY’s classrooms open to the neediest students, leveling the playing field and protecting them from tuition increases and other economic fluctuations.

Without aid, CUNY’s 2009-10 in-state tuition was $4,600 per year at senior colleges and $3,150 at community colleges; for the spring 2011 semester, tuition rose 5 percent, to $4,830 and $3,300, respectively, and it will increase another 2 percent for the 2011-12 academic year, to $4,927 and $3,366. That is still less — in most cases, much less — than the tuition at other area colleges.

What keeps CUNY affordable? A history of infrequent but modest tuition increases, the availability of federal and state financial aid and the University’s continuing advocacy for the CUNY Compact. Under the compact, the state and city governments fund mandatory University costs such as energy and labor and at least 20 percent of new academic programs and student services. The University seeks philanthropic contributions and commits to cutting internal expenditures to free up funds for the classroom. The compact also favors small, predictable tuition increases to help keep the University’s finances stable and avoid tuition spikes that can rattle family budgets and defer college dreams.

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But here’s the best-kept secret about CUNY: For its neediest students, the University is tuition-free.

Low-income students are insulated from tuition increases by need-based Pell Grants and New York State Tuition Assistance (TAP) awards. In 2009-10, nearly 167,000 CUNY students received financial assistance, including $491.4 million in Pell Grants, $224.4 million in TAP awards, and loans. In total, CUNY students received more than $1 billion in aid, including grants, scholarships, work-study programs and loans.

Fewer CUNY students, on average, borrow to finance their education — and those who do typically owe less than their peers at area colleges, according to a report by the nonprofit Project on Student Debt. Therefore, they are less encumbered by debt when they graduate and head to the job market or graduate school.

Value to New York

It’s hard to overstate the University’s contribution to the intertwined economies of New York City and State. CUNY has conferred more than 1 million degrees since 1967, and its colleges educate the majority of undergraduates in the city, which has the third-highest college enrollment among the nation’s 10 largest cities.

A most significant factor is that the vast majority of CUNY graduates remain in New York City and State, contributing the increased earning power and skills conferred by their degrees. A nearly three-decade sampling by the University’s Office of Institutional Research and Assessment (1981-2008) found eight of 10 CUNY bachelor’s-degree recipients and seven of 10 associate-degree recipients still living in New York City, while 85 percent remained in the state.

CUNY graduates enjoy a high level of employment, as well: Within three years of graduating, 84 percent of baccalaureate graduates are working and 92 percent are employed and/or continuing their education, the University found. Employment prospects also are strong for associate-degree recipients: 76 percent are working within six months of graduation, and 94 percent are employed and/or continuing their education.

In order to strengthen the knowledge and skills of incoming freshmen, the University has stepped up its involvement in K-12 education in partnership with the city Department of Education. Part of the collaboration is keyed to expectations of the next wave of high-demand jobs. For example, high numbers of nurses, accountants and health, science and computer technicians are earning degrees and other credentials at CUNY schools.

CUNY’s impact on the health care field is significant. Its nursing programs graduate 65 percent of the 1,400 associate degree-level RNs at New York City institutions, with 80 percent employed within six months of graduation.

So, too, is its training for business and finance jobs. CUNY baccalaureate and master’s graduates account for more than one-third of business and finance graduates from city institutions. The University awards about 4,500 baccalaureate and 800 master’s degrees in business and finance (excluding sales and marketing) and graduates approximately 2,000 students from accounting programs each year.

CUNY’s imprint on the teaching profession is also deep: About one-third of New York City public school teachers are CUNY-educated and about 40 percent of teacher education programs in the city are at CUNY schools.

ScholarSupportCardFINALWorkforce development is another CUNY concern and contribution. The University runs programs to help New Yorkers — CUNY-trained and otherwise — find work, from entry level jobs to up-and-coming health care positions.

The Workforce1 Healthcare Career Center at LaGuardia Community College, funded by the city Department of Small Business Services, has placed more than 400 people as licensed practical nurses, paramedics and health information technologists (electronic medical records) since late 2009, among other titles. The center is “becoming one of the primary places” where health care employers seek trained employees, said Suri Duitch, CUNY’s director of adult and continuing education.

On another workforce-development front, there is Jobs-Plus, run by Hostos Community College at the New York City Housing Authority’s Jefferson Houses in East Harlem. Jobs-Plus helps residents access and improve jobs, promotions, education and skills. Funded by the city and the investment bank Goldman Sachs, it has made 222 mostly entry-level job placements since October 2009 in positions including home health aide, sales associate, construction laborer, deli manager, cook, cashier and security guard. “It’s all about creating earned income,” Duitch said.

And at a Department of Education facility in Long Island City, the University’s School of Professional Studies is training 1,000 school custodians in energy-efficient building operations. The custodians seek a valuable credential, building operator’s certification, while the DOE hopes that better-trained custodians will gain the know-how to reduce energy costs.

University Construction Spurs Economy

Photo caption (comstruction man): Workforce development in fields from health care to building trades can mean jobs on projects such as those generated by the University's capital construction program.

Workforce development in fields from health care to building trades can mean jobs on projects such as those generated by the University's capital construction program.

Neighborhoods and CUNY campuses also benefit from the economic activity and jobs generated by the University’s capital construction program, which in the past decade has completed more than $2 billion in new campus construction, renovations and critical maintenance, launched another $2 billion in construction and planned for $2.1 billion in new building projects. Some $560 million was spent on capital projects in 2009-10. Current projects will add about 1.9 million square feet of space to meet the record demand for a CUNY education. Construction projects now in the pipeline will generate an estimated 14,000 jobs.

CUNY’s continued focus on innovative income generation also illustrates the exponential value to the city of a strong, engaged public University. The administration is exploring real estate public-private partnerships as an important avenue toward helping CUNY meet the “continuing challenge” of “not only finding space for research and classrooms, but also for faculty housing,” perhaps also for K-12 teachers and other public employees, the chancellor said recently.

“In this way, CUNY would advance the goal of affordable housing, develop faculty housing, and build some revenue to add to our endowment — enabling us, ultimately, to build a better public higher education system,” Goldstein said.