As the new academic year starts there is much good news to report and so many reasons to be proud of how one of the nation’s largest and most important public universities serves the city, state and country. We have the highest enrollment in our history; we’re launching a medical school and a graduate film school; we’re investing more in doctoral education in the sciences; we’ve opened state-of-the art research facilities; and we’re recognized nationally as providing among the best values in higher education. For these reasons and more, The City University of New York continues to be an indispensable institution with an immeasurable impact.
Key to CUNY’s steady growth in enrollment and the positive local and national attention it attracts is an unparalleled value proposition. CUNY’s remarkable access is supported by low tuition, high financial aid and scholarship awards and low student debt. But every bit as important as the measures of access and affordability are those of quality. CUNY is a tremendous value because of what we provide our students, city and state: extraordinarily talented faculty in the classroom and laboratory, who are providing outstanding instruction, creating new knowledge, and contributing to the public good.
Our Highest Priority
CUNY’s quality and its many notable achievements are possible because of a dedicated faculty and staff who have worked for far too long without a new contract and across-the-board salary increases. I am committed to rectifying that situation. I have spent my career advocating for faculty, and over my first year at CUNY I have come to have the highest regard for the talent and commitment of CUNY’s faculty and staff. I have made it clear in my testimony to the State Legislature and City Council, in countless meetings and numerous speeches, at meetings with the Board of Trustees, and in every senior staff meeting that agreement on a new contract with CUNY’s faculty and staff is our highest priority. We are continuing to work with state and city leaders to be in a position to make a fair offer, while at the same time we are working at the bargaining table on non-economic elements of a proposed contract.
Over the last year, I have spoken to hundreds of CUNY faculty and staff and have heard from many more. I understand the concerns and the challenges you’re facing. Working on your behalf, I will continue to make a new contract the University’s highest priority. I am excited about the future of CUNY and we have significant plans for the years ahead, but they depend on our ability to recruit and retain outstanding faculty and staff.
The budgets from both state and city provided some important programmatic investments as well as much-needed capital funds for critical maintenance and some new projects. The state budget increased base aid for community colleges and increased investment in a number of student services programs. It also provided $12 million for performance improvement plans and included a requirement for student experiential learning. Legislation calling for state “maintenance of effort” and five-year capital plans for both CUNY and SUNY passed both houses, but at this time have not been signed by the Governor. New sexual assault legislation, championed by the Governor, was adopted and CUNY policies and practices are being changed to comply with new requirements. In addition, the Governor’s continued support for CUNY 2020 and START-UP NY provides great opportunity for CUNY colleges to be partners in New York’s economic growth.
The most disappointing outcome from the state legislative session was the failure to address collective bargaining needs as well as funding for mandatory cost increases. The failure to fund mandatory costs such as fringe benefits and the need to maintain as much flexibility as possible to address collective bargaining has led to a required budget reduction at the senior colleges and more significant cuts at CUNY’s central office.
The new city budget, most significantly, provides for a major expansion of the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, or ASAP, eventually growing to $42 million and supporting 25,000 students. I have more to say about this game-changing investment below. In addition, the budget provides support for doubling the number of students in CUNY Start. The city provided free MetroCards for Guttman Community College students—a key element of ASAP benefits—and included funding for critical maintenance at community colleges. The City Council added $17 million for merit scholarships. The combination of these investments and others resulted in what may be the most significant city investment in CUNY in decades. We are grateful to the Mayor and City Council for their continued strong support of CUNY.
Selected CUNY Highlights
There is so much that could be said about exciting developments at CUNY, but I’m trying to keep this letter short enough that it has a chance of being read! I’ll provide only a few highlights, with apologies to those many students, faculty, programs and alumni I’ve left out. Our record enrollment is no surprise. People are increasingly recognizing the tremendous value represented by CUNY—high quality education at a very reasonable price. This was recognized most notably by The Washington Monthly magazine, which recently announced that four of the top five “bangs for the buck” in the Northeast were CUNY colleges.
We followed a record number of student Fulbright winners last year with 17 new winners this year, 15 new NSF Graduate Research Fellowships, as well as prestigious Goldwater and Truman Scholarships, and Soros Fellowships for New Americans. I did a quick calculation after looking at the Soros announcement in The Chronicle of Higher Education last week: only four schools had more Soros Fellows than CUNY—Harvard, Stanford, Yale and MIT. That reminded me of a story in the Chronicle earlier in the summer about what undergraduate institutions “MacArthur Geniuses” hail from. While it might not have been surprising that some of our nation’s leading private universities had the most MacArthur alumni, two publics were in the top ten—Berkeley and CUNY. A current CUNY graduate student won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry, a recent alumnus won the National Book Award, and we celebrated our 13th graduate to win a Nobel Prize, which puts CUNY in rarefied air among universities around the world.
Joined by Governor Cuomo, we announced accreditation for a new CUNY School of Medicine at City College, building on the 40-year success of the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education and advancing a high priority of the Board of Trustees. It had become clear that the Sophie Davis model of having students transfer to complete their medical education was not sustainable, and we needed to complete the program on our own. We had a tremendous record of success in recruitment and education we needed to support: almost half the classes at Sophie Davis have been comprised of students of color, compared to approximately 10 percent on average at medical schools nationally, and the majority of our graduates have gone on to practice in federally designated underserved areas. We will build on this impressive history and the School of Medicine is a welcome addition to CUNY.
There are many exciting new programs starting this fall, perhaps most notably Brooklyn College’s new Feirstein Graduate School of Cinema, the only school of its kind in the country to be located within a working studio, in this case Steiner Studios in the Brooklyn Navy Yard. The CUNY Law School launched a part-time JD program that is boosting enrollments and expanding access. There are other new and celebrated programs across the university, and I could not be more pleased with the innovation and creativity of our faculty and college leaders in recognizing important academic needs and finding ways to meet them.
One story I never tire of is the remarkable mobilization of CUNY to increase opportunities for undocumented students. Over the course of a year, all of our colleges led by our team at CUNY Central worked with TheDream.US Scholarship program to increase ten-fold the number of CUNY Dreamer scholarship recipients. We have 367 TheDream.US Scholars this year, the highest level in the nation by far and representing almost half the scholarships given nationwide. At our event last spring to recognize these CUNY Dreamers, two generous benefactors, moved I am certain by the stories of CUNY Dreamers, pledged $30 million on the spot to support TheDream.US program.
Finally, we opened some of the most advanced research space in the region recently at the CUNY Advanced Science Research Center and companion facility, the City College Center for Discovery and Innovation, as well as at Hunter College through a unique partnership with Weill-Cornell Medical College. I am especially encouraged by Hunter’s innovative partnership and convinced that there are many more opportunities for collaborative efforts that leverage CUNY investments.
High Priorities for This Year
CUNY has made remarkable progress over the last 15 years, and it is in a very different place today. A new set of strategies was implemented for addressing developmental education needs and promoting student success and transfer. While I am convinced we’re on the right track, we must admit we aren’t where we need to be. We have much hard work ahead of us addressing the stubborn challenges to success in remediation, improving retention and graduation rates, and significantly improving our students’ successful transfer to baccalaureate study, as well as entry into graduate and professional programs and the workforce. We have created a number of impressive new programs and even colleges, but our priority must be continuing to raise the level of academic quality and student success at our many colleges throughout the five boroughs. This is difficult but essential work and will require the determination of talented people across CUNY.
In one such effort, under the leadership of University Provost Rabinowitz, we will take a close look this year at our remediation programs, particularly in math, to make sure we are doing everything that we should to help our students succeed. Similarly, the University Provost’s office will be working with appropriate colleges to develop strategies for improvement in our teacher preparation and workforce development programs.
We will expand a program CUNY-wide to award associate degrees to students who have transferred prior to receiving a degree but have more than completed—or could easily complete—equivalent coursework on their way to earning a bachelor’s degree. At the same time we will create a new scholarship program to encourage community college students to earn their associate degree before transfer, a strategy that contributes to later success as well.
Our expansion of CUNY ASAP, recognized by President Obama for its success in increasing graduation rates for community college students, begins in earnest. We expect to increase our ASAP population from more than 4,000 students last year to more than 13,000 by fall 2017 and reach 25,000 students by 2018. We will be focused first on increasing STEM participation in the program, both at community colleges and in senior college pilots. We will begin our efforts to bring ASAP to scale with an exciting project at Bronx Community College.
At the same time, we plan to double over the next four years the number of students who participate in CUNY Start, a program that has demonstrated success in helping students efficiently meet their remediation requirements. We also had successful pilots at three colleges this summer with “Summer Start,” which shows great promise in helping students become proficient in a short period of time and ready for matriculation in the fall. We will expand this program as well.
To help plan CUNY’s response to the state’s call for opportunities for experiential learning, I have named a task force chaired by John Jay College President Jeremy Travis and University Dean Suri Duitch. All of us view this as an opportunity for CUNY to consider additional ways for our students to be more engaged in their studies and better prepared for graduate and professional study and a competitive work environment upon graduation, and to identify what resources will be required for us to be successful.
To develop plans for performance funding required in the state budget, I have asked University Provost Rabinowitz and Budget and Finance Vice Chancellor Sapienza to lead the university’s work on behalf of the Board of Trustees. We will increase the pool of funds for this purpose beyond the state investment for senior colleges so community colleges will also be able to participate. This provides an exciting opportunity for CUNY to identify and fund initiatives designed to advance our shared goals. More information will be available soon about our process and priorities.
We have engaged a leading fundraising consulting firm to help CUNY and all of our colleges better position ourselves for increased success in private fundraising, which is unquestionably increasingly essential to the ability of public universities to meet their objectives in providing access, building quality and achieving distinction. I look forward to implementing recommendations that will help us more effectively make what I believe is the most compelling case for private philanthropy in New York.
Listening to our students, prospective students and college leaders, we will increase opportunities for undergraduate and graduate students to live and work in university housing. While every campus would understandably prefer its own housing, that is likely not feasible and, due to relative proximity, probably not essential. We will continue to support promising individual college projects but will also explore opportunities for CUNY colleges to partner with each other to serve their students.
I am convinced that online education can expand access, appeal to new learners, and facilitate degree completion and lifelong learning, and I plan to support expansion of online courses and degree programs. State legislation this year lowered the barriers to institutions from outside New York to offer online programs here, as well as better positioned CUNY to offer programs in other states. I am hopeful the Governor will also sign legislation that will allow us more flexibility with non-resident online tuition.
As you know, I launched a strategic planning process last spring, and it is well underway. The Steering Committee of faculty, presidents and others has been active, and we are continuing to solicit suggestions from CUNY stakeholders. I encourage you to visit the “21st Century CUNY” website often to check on progress and submit comments and suggestions (www.cuny.edu/21stCenturyCUNY).
CUNY continues to enjoy remarkable success and I am convinced our best days lie ahead. We have assets of scale, diversity, talent and location unmatched anywhere. There has been so much good work done to get CUNY to this point, but there is also much to be done next year and beyond. I am grateful for the opportunity to work with such a talented group of faculty, staff, students, administrators and trustees, and I will do everything I can to see that the aspirations we share for CUNY are met.
I wish you a successful and rewarding year, and I thank you for all you do for The City University of New York.
James B. Millken