State Approves Stable Funding Policy, Compact For Future

Capping the University’s decade-long drive for a stable tuition policy, Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature authorized modest, predictable tuition increases while protecting needy students who receive Tuition Assistance Program aid and guaranteeing that New York’s financial support of CUNY won’t diminish in the next five years unless a fiscal emergency is declared.

The agreement in June came as the Board of Trustees took steps to make sure that students who transfer within CUNY will get credit for courses they have taken on any of its campuses. These changes are expected to improve graduation rates, help more students earn their degrees on time and save money for students and the University — all while raising academic quality.

The tuition policy, which covers both CUNY and SUNY, places the state at the vanguard of innovative financing to sustain and grow public higher education. Known as the CUNY Compact, the policy was conceived by Chancellor Matthew Goldstein early in the decade, and with the help of countless speeches, legislative testimony and private conversations, it steadily gained support.

“This change will reverberate for many years ahead for this University,” said Goldstein. “It will finally give us the economic stability that we have longed for.”

The policy also earned praise nationally. “I don’t know of any other state that is trying anything like this,” said Terry W. Hartle, senior vice president at the American Council of Education. “The long-term trend in state support for higher education has been down for the last 40 years. New York has been no exception. This is an extraordinarily important step. The unique part is that in an era when public support for public higher education is hemorrhaging, New York State has provided predictability.”

The CUNY Compact has four facets:

• A state “maintenance of effort” commitment not to reduce financial support over the prior year, although it may increase it. In the two prior years, state aid fell some $300 million. The governor could suspend this new commitment by declaring a financial emergency, but Goldstein said, “If we did not declare a state of emergency in this past year [when the state faced a huge budget gap], it is hard to see, short of a cataclysmic event, that it would happen.”

• Modest but regular tuition increases, instead of erratic jumps of up to 40 percent, usually in bad economic times when students could least afford it. Now tuition can rise as much as $300 a year in each of five years.

• More philanthropic contributions, which under Goldstein’s prodding have risen from $35 million a dozen years ago to more than $200 million a year now.

• More efficient operations.

As the Chancellor and his team broadened support for this plan through the years, the State University of New York got on the bandwagon. The new legislation makes similar provisions for that system, as well.
State funding for CUNY community colleges fell by $10.6 million. However, community colleges will hold steady due to higher tuition and the city’s restoration of more than $20 million in the final municipal budget approved by Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the New York City Council. The city agreement also restored funding for most University centers and institutes at the current year’s levels.

Although the state legislation allows CUNY to raise tuition in each of the next five years for undergraduates from New York State, it builds in an offset for students who receive full aid under the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Those who receive less than the full TAP allocation will receive partial offsets, according to a formula that has yet to be devised.

In a significant break from past practice, the state is allowing the University to keep all revenues from the new tuition, rather than shunting most of it to state coffers.

New transfer policies and a new general education framework — unanimously approved by the Board of Trustees in June — will ensure that students who transfer within CUNY will get credit for courses they’ve taken on any of its campuses.

The 42-credit general education framework will include a 30-credit “Common Core” for all campuses and 12 “College Option” credits that each campus with baccalaureate programs will designate. Currently, general education requirements vary by campus from 39 to 63 credits, with an average of 51 credits.

Chancellor Goldstein said the new framework “will strengthen and lift the quality of education at our community colleges and help align coursework more consistently with the senior colleges, further enhancing opportunities for student advancement.” The Chancellor noted the new framework is equal to, or exceeds, national standards for general education at top-quality public universities, including University of North Carolina (42); University of California, Los Angeles (36); and State University of New York (30).

A task force of distinguished educators, led by CUNY Law School Dean Michelle Anderson, will tackle the complexities of developing the new Common Core. The panel, which met for the first time in August, is comprised of two committees appointed by the Chancellor after consultation with the Council of Presidents and the leadership of the University Faculty and Student Senates: the 16-member steering committee, and a 39-member working committee to advise it and serve as a two-way communication channel between the steering committee and the individual colleges. The task force includes faculty and student representatives from every CUNY college, as well as representatives of every liberal arts major and transfer major of significant size.

The task force will meet again in October and a preliminary draft of the Common Core proposal will be completed by Nov. 1. It then will be circulated for feedback from the campuses before it heads to the Chancellor for approval in December. Once approved, each undergraduate college will specify individual courses that meet the 30-credit Core requirements.

In fall 2010, approximately 10,000 undergraduates transferred from one CUNY campus to another. Transfer, particularly from community to senior colleges, has become common here as it has elsewhere, as the University has shifted remedial courses to community colleges and students have taken advantage of lower tuition at community colleges during the recent recession. More than half of the graduates from every senior college are transfer students. The trustees’ action recognizes “that community college students, who transfer, especially after graduation, are as well prepared as those who start in a four-year college,” said Eduardo J. Marti, Vice Chancellor for Community Colleges.