Allies come together
CUNY Rising, an alliance of community, labor and student leaders, released a new white paper calling on Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio to uphold their post-election promises to protect vulnerable New Yorkers.
Standing together on the steps of City Hall for a joint press conference on December 7, the coalition urged the city and state to reverse years of CUNY disinvestment and allow the University to uphold its mission to deliver high-quality education accessible to all New Yorkers. Community and higher education advocates called for the phasing in of $2 billion in public funding, an amount that they say would allow CUNY to provide free higher education to New Yorkers.
In an impassioned speech, PSC President Barbara Bowen spoke about developing a “new vision of funding” for CUNY, saying, “[We’re] demanding that we rethink the agenda that has said for too long that CUNY is going to have to scrape by.”
The event marked the release of the CUNY Rising White Paper, which advances a plan to fund free, high-quality education for all CUNY students. The report also details how years of defunding public higher education has led to high tuition and unsafe and out-of-date learning environments. The paper stated that from 2008 to 2015, CUNY senior colleges reported a 17-percent drop in per-student funding, while two-year colleges reported a 5-percent drop (when adjusted for inflation). It also called for the expansion of services offered, including the nationally acclaimed college advisement initiative Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), which has been shown to significantly improve college completion rates. For a copy of the CUNY Rising White Paper, go to tinyurl.com/CUNY-Rising-White-Paper.
Included below are excerpts from several of the day’s speeches. Others who spoke, but whose statements do not appear below, include Kevin Stump of the Young Invincibles, Natasha Capers of the NYC Coalition for Education Justice, Bill Lipton of the Working Families Party, Flor Reyes-Silvestre of the Lehman College Dream Team, Seshat Mack of the Black Youth Project 100 and Zakiyah Ansari of the Alliance for Quality Education of New York.
Barbara Bowen, president of the PSC
What’s happening today is very exciting: the release of this white paper. Because we have groups coming together – student groups, community groups, faculty and staff groups, labor throughout the city – saying that CUNY is central to the survival of New York City. We knew that several months ago, but we know it even more now.
And what we have done…is call not for just a tiny bit of change, not for just being on the defensive all the time, not just for fighting against the idea that CUNY should always be poor, but actually demanding a new vision of funding for CUNY, demanding that we rethink the agenda that has said for too long that CUNY is going to have to scrape by.
We are saying, “No, there is enough money,” and there is still enough money in this rich city and this rich state to allow for free tuition and top-quality education at CUNY. And if the city and state care – truly care – about the more than half million people who go to CUNY who are largely Latino, African American, Asian, people who are largely people of color, poor people – if the city and state really care, then it is simple: put the money in to make sure that CUNY students and their families can have the education that they deserve. That’s what we’re calling for, starting now.
Letitia James, public advocate for the City of New York
[A CUNY student’s] reported household income is on average less than $30,000. And 38 percent [of households] reported less than $20,000. These are the working poor of our city who yearn for an education, who yearn for success, who recognize that a college degree provides so many opportunities. And these are students who would likely, like myself, not be in a position to pursue college anywhere because…the average [annual] college tuition at a private institution is $32,000, and most individuals in low-income families are not in a position to afford that.
More than 40 percent of CUNY undergraduates were born outside of the United States and 44 percent are children of immigrants. If we are truly a country or a city that embraces immigrants, we have to open up the doors to higher education for all individuals, but in particular to our immigrants.
And many of these students, who are the first in their families to go to college, students who might not have the needed documentation to attend another school, it’s really critically important that we open up their doors. And for them, CUNY is a dream, an invaluable dream. It is a resource to achieve the American dream that all of us yearn for.
But in order for CUNY to continue providing the education to these students, we, we as government, we as taxpayers, we as New Yorkers have a responsibility. If you complain about the cost of social services, if you complain about those living on the dole, if you complain about high taxes, the key to all of that is higher education, is to making sure that individuals realize their dreams, that they are self actualized.
We know that CUNY is the most significant education and economic enhancement tool for the city’s 2.3 million Latino residents. And so we want to make sure that our leaders are rethinking their vision around CUNY [and] are not going to play this sort of budget dance…over who is going to pay for CUNY. We need a more robust vision to make sure that CUNY can continue to get stronger and ultimately become a free institution for all who choose to have a public higher education.
Bryan Wigfall, CUNY Coalition for Students with Disabilities
Disabled CUNY students lack adequate and accessible space to study, meet, as well as socialize outside class. Having adequate, accessible space where students and staff can engage with one another should be part of a higher-quality education. CUNY faculties are often too worn-out to accommodate disabled students, faculty and staff. Libraries throughout CUNY often do not have software on computers that disabled students need to use.
Investments in various forms of technology, including accessible technology for students with disabilities, remain inadequate to support the growing needs of students and faculty. An investment in infrastructural resources at CUNY can provide students with the learning spaces, library materials and access to technology available to their counterparts at private institutions, [thus] provid[ing] a quality higher education in the 21st century.
Desiree Greenidge, BMCC student and NYPIRG board member
Not only am I a student, but I also work at the Financial Aid Office at BMCC. I see firsthand the need for the services that opportunity programs provide. In many cases, these are programs that offer low-income students the services that they need to be successful in college. At the BMCC Financial Aid Office, students come in regularly looking for help with mounting transportation, textbook and other costs. The New York Public Interest Research Group also joined a national survey of hunger on campus and found that nearly half of the students and survey respondents reported experiencing food insecurity in the past 30 days.
Such costs can become a roadblock for students to get their college degree. It’s clear that further support is needed for CUNY students that goes beyond simply covering tuition. Opportunity programs have done a great job tackling the outside costs of going to college, but there aren’t nearly enough spots available to accommodate the number of students who qualify. This is why the Student Bill of Rights demands full support for opportunity programs to meet the demands of students’ needs today.