Today’s New York Times story, “Dreams Stall as CUNY, New York City’s Engine of Mobility, Sputters”, reports on funding challenges faced by the City University of New York, similar to those faced at many public universities across the nation.
It’s true that CUNY’s funding has not kept up with growth of over 50,000 students in the last ten years. And CUNY faculty and staff have worked for more than six years without raises, which certainly harms morale. That’s why funding a fair contract for 45,000 faculty and staff who serve our students every day is our highest priority.
And yes, at an institution with aging infrastructure, there is a long list of critical maintenance needs. These issues clearly deserve the attention of policy makers and CUNY leadership.
The full CUNY story, however, goes well beyond important facility, maintenance and even budget issues. CUNY’s focus has always been on outcomes for our students and the people of New York, and on that score there is much today that is positive.
CUNY is among the most accessible and affordable university systems in the country, offering a high quality education to the most diverse student body anywhere. CUNY’s enrollment is at record levels with nearly 275,000 students seeking degrees, and over another 250,000 students in non-degree adult and continuing education. Fortunately, dreams are not stalled for so many of these CUNY students, and here are some of the reasons why:
- Seven of 10 full-time undergraduates attend tuition-free because they qualify for state and federal financial aid. 80 percent of our undergraduates who obtain degrees have zero federal student loan debt. Few universities can claim that record.
- Washington Monthly magazine has consistently ranked CUNY colleges among those offering the “Best Bang for the Buck” in the nation. Graduation rates University-wide for the most recent classes are up, and we have nearly tripled graduation rates at our community colleges for those enrolled in CUNY’s innovative ASAP program.
- CUNY students earn the most prestigious national honors in great numbers, with more than 50 Fulbrights in the past 3 years, as well as Rhodes, Goldwater and Truman Scholarships. In 2016 alone, CUNY students received 10 National Science Foundation Research Grants, 13 Fulbright Fellowships and three Goldwater Scholarships, among many others. Our alumni have received more MacArthur “Genius” awards than any public university other than Berkeley.
- Our faculty are the recipients of hundreds of millions of dollars in research grants and have been honored with Fulbright and Guggenheim fellowships, Pulitzer Prizes, National Book Awards, MacArthur awards and many more
When First Lady Michelle Obama addresses students at City College this week, she will look upon faces from every corner of the world—40 percent of CUNY’s undergraduates are born in another country—and address them at a new venue in the heart of Harlem. State-of-the-art science education and research centers anchoring CCNY’s South Campus will be next door.
Yes, our buildings need more attention, our faculty and staff desperately need a new contract, and CUNY must improve its funding situation with both public and private support. But there is much good news at this most remarkable institution that educates almost three times the 100,000 degree-seeking students it served in 1967. CUNY is serving more students than ever before and remains an engine of mobility, or as alumnus Andy Grove put it, “the American Dream Machine”.
James B. Milliken, Chancellor<
The City University of New York