CUNY on a Tuition Remission Mission

The City University of New York has committed $2 million to fund a second year of tuition remission for doctoral students. It is a major step toward eliminating a persistent problem: how to ease the financial burden on doctoral students who teach for the University as adjuncts or doctoral teaching fellows, yet must pay full tuition. A comprehensive solution that would cover tuition for such students would cost $5 million.

"The University has made a commitment to phase in that full amount," said Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Louise Mirrer.
CUNY has sought state support to put a tuition remission plan in place, a move that would bring it in line with the State University of New York and with most private universities.

"We have this absurd situation in which our students don't get tuition remission," said Prof. Lia Schwartz, distinguished professor of Spanish and comparative literature and executive director of the Ph.D. program in Hispanic and Luso-Brazilian literatures at the Graduate Center. "As far as I know, there isn't a single other university where graduate students don't get automatic tuition remission." Without such a program, Schwartz said, "We're lacking a very important recruiting tool."

Mirrer noted that doctoral students are not seeking education as a way to get rich. "It's not like going to some law schools, where you could incur large debts in hope of paying them off from a large salary," she said. Tuition remission thus advances a social good.

"The University had sought a tuition remission allocation from the state," Mirrer said. "The State University has always had it, and a great effort was made by President Frances Horowitz of the Graduate Center and faculty and student organizations over the last decade. Chancellor Goldstein and the Board of Trustees made it one of CUNY's top priorities," she said.

After determining that the State wasn't going to make the funds available in the current budget climate, the University established an internal allocation of funds that would support tuition remission for doctoral students, Mirrer said. With the help and support of Vice Chancellor for Budget and Finance Ernesto Malave, the plan was developed.

Last year, a $2 million tuition remission program was jointly funded for the first time by CUNY and the Professional Staff Congress. A memorandum of agreement stated that "funds shall be available for the 2002-2003 academic year through a one-time cash payment of $1 million to the Graduate School and University Center, for the purpose of providing partial tuition remission to CUNY doctoral students who serve as Graduate Assistants or as adjuncts at CUNY.” The University enthusiastically agreed to provide matching funds for the purpose of providing partial tuition remission to such graduate students in a one-time cash payment of $1 million.

"That program hasn't been renewed," Mirrer said. Now, the $2 million is coming out of CUNY's operating budget at the direction of the Chancellor. "We have had to economize in a number of ways," Mirrer said. "The University has been able to bring in an increased amount of new funds from grants and contracts to liberate money from the operating budget."

In the longer term, CUNY is looking to its nascent School of Professional Studies to supply revenue to the tuition remission program. The school, approved last spring by the Board of Trustees, will offer career-training programs and has already obtained funds from a summer training program offered to members of the United Federation of Teachers.
"It is growing," Mirrer said of the School of Professional Studies. "We hope it will eventually become a major source of funds for tuition remission."

The Graduate Center is the CUNY's doctorate-granting institution. According to the most recent National Research Council report, more than a third of The Graduate Center's rated Ph.D. programs rank among the nation's top 20 at public and private institutions.


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