Thank you Chairman Thompson and good evening Trustees, colleagues and guests. This is, of course, a busy and somewhat anxious time as we navigate the state budget process, which is moving toward its conclusion in just a few weeks. We are engaged with the Governor’s Office, the Assembly and the Senate in our advocacy of the request adopted by the Board of Trustees that advances CUNY’s indispensable mission.
Overall, there is much positive on that front. The governor’s executive budget was favorable for CUNY, his Excelsior scholarship program is a big help, and support for our mandatory expenses and the investment in critical maintenance is very positive.
There are also positive elements in the “one house” bills from each legislative chamber, as you know from my communications with the board. The Assembly and Senate are both recommending a $100 per student full-time equivalent increase in the base aid for community colleges. That would generate an additional $6.3 million for our seven institutions.
For the senior colleges, the Senate and Assembly proposals each include additional funds for operating support. And on capital, both houses propose additional funds, the Assembly for strategic initiatives and the Senate for additional critical maintenance.
The State of New York’s investment has never been more critical, and we appreciate the leadership of the Governor, as well as the Assembly and Senate. This is especially true when taking stock of the actions and debate at the federal level. One need look no further than this morning’s lead editorial in The New York Times, which complained about the federal Education Department’s policies on student loan collection practices. A new policy statement appears to make it more difficult for states to institute measures that protect student borrowers and prevent deceptive loan collection practices. It is a critical issue and much is at stake, given that there is currently about $1.4 trillion in outstanding student debt and some are seeing their career prospects damaged by tough payback terms.
As the states, such as New York, resist federal efforts, CUNY provides a critical path: not only do we have among the lowest tuition rates in the country for a major university, more than 60 percent of our students pay no tuition because, coming from low income households, they receive substantial state and federal support. And the vast majority do not take out federal loans.
As you know well, a critical battle is underway to persuade Congress to continue the DACA program for undocumented immigrants brought to this country as children. These Dreamers, as they are known, have found a welcoming home at CUNY. We have thousands of DACA students and they are among the most disciplined, hardest-working and talented at our colleges. They are exactly the kinds of people we should want as our colleagues, neighbors, friends and leaders.
Finally, I am deeply concerned about the legislation reauthorizing the Higher Education Act, which was approved by the House Committee on Education and Workforce in December. New conditions included in this legislation, known as the PROSPER Act, would have a terrible impact on CUNY by eliminating student grants from the Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant program, worth millions of dollars in support for needy students. Also, proposed changes in the funding formula for the Federal Work-Study program would hit CUNY students harder than any other university system in the entire country. The loss could be devastating, especially to graduate students. We have made sure that legislative leaders and the New York delegation understand how important these issues are to CUNY and New York.
Our arguments for adequate funding are made much stronger by the many successes we are realizing from implementing the university’s plans and marketing the university to prospective students. CUNY’s freshman applications have been rising in recent years and remain remarkably strong. And today, applications are up 8 percent for the coming fall, compared with this time last year, and last year we were at a record level and enrolled 38,000 students.
I am pleased to report that this success is possible, in part, because our admissions and enrollment operations are functioning much more efficiently and smoothly. When compared to this time last year, the office has processed more than 13 percent more freshman applications and about 29 percent more transfer applications. That represents excellent improvement in this department, overseen by Senior Vice Chancellor Sapienza.
You’ve heard me before discuss the exceptional improvements in performance we are enjoying due to the implementation of our strategic plans. At the last meeting you heard a presentation on the substantial early achievements from our completion initiatives at each campus. We should all take great pride in the consistent increases in our graduation rates, which are moving steadily toward our longer term objectives. The great beneficiaries of this performance are, of course, our students, who are graduating sooner and enjoying the life-changing benefits that a high quality college degree can bring.
Today, you will hear why we are very optimistic about the planning and implementation of programs for expanding workplace preparation and career placement initiatives. Angie Kamath, the indefatigable leader of these efforts, will provide an overview of the excellent work being done in sharply increasing paid internships in the most promising sectors of our economy, in building wide, two-way avenues of communication with big employers, which ensures our students are being trained in the skills they require, and making our graduates more competitive in winning the best-paid jobs and succeeding in their careers. What is particularly heartening is that we are just getting started. More progress is to come.