By Felix V. Matos Rodríguez, Ph.D.

El Diario La Prensa

Tuesday, February 15 2011

As my grandfather would say, in hard times you know who your true friends really are. Given the budget cuts that have been proposed for CUNY and SUNY, now we will discover who the friends of public education truly are.

The recommended budget includes unsustainable cuts for both public systems. For community colleges, a 10% cut to basic aid has been proposed, which would reduce it to $2,034 per student. This is in addition to previous budget cuts since 2009, when aid per student was $2,675. This means that core funding for our neediest students has been cropped by about 25% for the past three years.

What will these proposed cuts mean? Overcrowded classrooms; fewer support programs for students; reduced operating hours at libraries, computer centers, and child care centers; fewer courses being offered; more students having their graduation delayed because they cannot register for required courses; and fewer full-time faculty, among other consequences.

Is this the university to which we aspire? Is this the kind of university we want our children to attend? Are these the conditions that will help us meet President Barack Obama’s challenge, to be the country with the largest number of college graduates by the year 2020?

I think not.

We must remember that CUNY’s community colleges also receive funding from the City of New York, which has already anticipated cutting our budget by $16 million for FY 2012.  Our students, who have made many sacrifices to come to college seeking the skills they need to improve their quality of life, do not deserve to be victimized by a double round of budget cuts.

During state budget negotiations last year, friends of public education in the Senate and the Assembly rejected the cuts to basic aid for community college students and proposed $2,545 per student. This was the consensus figure in Albany last year, until it was vetoed by the former Governor.

Given the continuing fiscal crisis, we recognize that it will not be possible to return to the level of support provided by the state in 2009. However, legislators who consider themselves true friends of community colleges must unite to demand the restoration of the basic aid of $2,545 per student. Nothing more, nothing less.

It’s time to reverse the funding cuts to CUNY and SUNY, especially those affecting community colleges, which serve the largest number of economically disadvantaged students and Latinos. The consensus reached last year to provide $2,545 per student must be the goal this year. It’s time for the true friends of public higher education to let their voices be heard and join the fight on behalf of our students.