While Gov. Kathy Hochul’s Executive Budget proposal contains necessary investments in CUNY and SUNY, it falls far short of the funding needed to reverse decades of state disinvestment. That historic disinvestment, paired with enrollment declines, expiring federal stimulus, and other ongoing challenges resulting from the pandemic, has left public colleges across the state in financial distress. Significant new investments made by the governor and the Legislature in the last two years were profoundly helpful, but not enough to stem the crisis.
A coalition of student groups, academic unions, and community groups held the rally to kick off their Higher Education Action Day, with activists climbing on buses and carpooling from as far as Buffalo, Plattsburg, New York City and Stony Brook.
“Today we fight for a New Deal for Public Higher Education and a quality education for all New Yorkers,” said Damien Andrade, NYPIRG’s Statewide Board of Directors Chairperson and Brooklyn College student. “Together our coalition represents hundreds of thousands of students, faculty, and staff from all over the state, and we’re here today in the halls of the state capitol to demand investment in CUNY, SUNY, and financial aid. This is what makes Higher Education Action Day so powerful: When we come together with a single voice and organize our grassroots power, we WIN!”
“It is imperative that we, as community organizers and advocates across the state, continue to amplify the furtherance of equity across higher education. For the last three days, organizations have advocated for expanding operating financial assistance for community colleges. We must invest $97 million increase from the current funding floor to enable community colleges to continue training and educating 20,000 students on workforce development fields such as nursing, semiconductors, green jobs ect via the Empire State Workforce Guarantee. We are also advocating for increasing the funding to EOP and restoring the proposed cuts to EOP operating aid. At the SUNY Student Assembly, we take pride and honor in collaborating with peer organizations that continue to promote a platform entrenched in equity!,” said Alexander Ruiz, SUNY Student Assembly President & SUNY Trustee.
State Senators Andrew Gounardes and John Liu, joined Assemblymembers Khaleel Anderson, Harry Bronson, Monique Chandler-Waterman, Harvey Epstein, Dr. Anna Kelles, Zohran Mamdani, and Karines Reyes at the event. They spoke passionately about the need to support public higher education. Afterward, the citizen lobbyists met with almost 100 legislators about a joint platform of needed investments for CUNY, SUNY and financial aid programs.
Assemblymember Reyes, Senator John Liu & PSC President James Davis/Photo by: Patrick Dobson
“CUNY and SUNY offer a foothold to the middle class and a pathway to economic opportunity for countless New Yorkers of all backgrounds. But the promise of these institutions are at risk. To ensure CUNY and SUNY remain engines of upward mobility, we need to invest in faculty, in critical support staff like academic advisors and clinical mental health counselors, and in students themselves. As a proud CUNY graduate, I know first-hand how transformative our these public colleges and universities can be. That’s why I’ll stand alongside these advocates until we get the higher education system we deserve,” said State Senator Andrew Gounardes.
“As we craft a state budget that seeks to address the needs of all New Yorkers, we cannot forget the students and workers in the higher education sector” said Assemblymember Karines Reyes, R.N. “That’s why I am fighting for a New Deal for CUNY, which would infuse billions of dollars into our city’s public higher education system, so that students can get vital access to mental health services, quality facilities, and to a 21st Century education with free tuition. It also would implement a student-faculty ratio that better accommodates students’ needs. I am hopeful that after last year’s budget contained an unprecedented investment of sorely-needed capital funds into SUNY and CUNY, we can invest in these other critical forms of care for our students and future generations.”
New York’s public higher education systems provide hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers with a high-quality, accessible and affordable education. The community colleges are the first entryway to higher education for many New Yorkers and a crucial part of the state’s workforce development system. The SUNY teaching hospitals educate the next generation of health care workers and provide critical care regardless of patients’ ability to pay. Yet CUNY and SUNY are woefully underfunded, and SUNY Downstate University Hospital–the only public teaching hospital in New York City–is threatened with closure.
“There is no surer path to the middle class and a great career than a degree from an affordable public university or college. Yet the last 15 years have seen a loss of nearly $8 billion to SUNY’s state-operated campuses, when adjusted for inflation. Eighteen of these campuses need a one-time investment of $139 million in the new budget, and they need to actually see the money that the budget designates for them. It’s imperative that lawmakers mandate that these funds go directly to the campuses for which they are intended,.” said Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D., president of United University Professions.
Every college in the CUNY system has cut back severely on course offerings, academic services and student supports after repeated rounds of internal cuts. Colleges that were finally beginning to hire full-time faculty with new state funding to fill longtime vacancies were ordered to freeze hiring. Nine colleges have been labeled “colleges of concern” by the Central Administration, and have been forced to make additional disruptive mid-year cuts, laying off adjunct faculty and dozens of full-time faculty and staff on contingent appointments.
“Enrollment is rebounding across almost every CUNY campus and applications for next fall hit an all-time high. But college budgets suffered from a pandemic-induced enrollment drop, and we can only provide the top-quality education our students deserve if Albany continues to prioritize major funding increases for the university. We need nothing short of a New Deal for CUNY, and for all of public higher education, including bold investments in our two great, but long-underfunded, public university systems.” said James Davis, Ph.D., president of the Professional Staff Congress.
The coalition groups are calling for more than $600 million for CUNY and SUNY senior colleges, plus funding to stop the closure of SUNY Downstate University Hospital. For the community colleges, they want a higher minimum funding floor than what the governor has proposed and increases of roughly $100 million for CUNY and SUNY to bring Albany closer to meeting the state’s long-neglected statutory obligation to fund 40% of community college operating budgets. The groups are also advocating for financial aid reforms, infrastructure improvements, and funding to move New York toward a tuition-free future.
At the rally, student and union leaders spoke about the need to invest in quality public higher education, including student supports.
“The number one priority of USS CUNY’s legislative agenda right now is to provide free MetroCards for college students. This will be achieved as the respect for student organizing continues to grow and students start to feel that they are in control of their own destiny and fate in the university. We are looking for wins to move toward a more equitable and quality environment for the student body,” said Salimatou Doumbouya, Chairperson of the CUNY University Student Senate.
“Public college education has the power to transform lives and communities, but requires adequate investment. Budget strains at CUNY and SUNY are defining the education experience, particularly at CUNY, where thousands of our students lack access to vital mental health services, face buildings in disrepair, housing insecurity, and endure faculty layoffs. This is no way to treat our educators or our next generation of teachers, nurses, doctors, counselors, business leaders, engineers, scientists, artists, and community leaders. Albert Einstein School of Medicine went tuition-free this week, thanks to a $1 billion private donation. Our state budget of almost $230 billion must make the same investments for our students, fully fund our schools, and make public higher education tuition-free,” said Sean Miller, Northeast Regional Director at Young Invincibles.
“Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) needs to be present on more campuses and better funded. Students should all have the opportunity to go to college, and more students need to know that EOP is there to give them that opportunity,” said Joshua Goodwin, SUNY EOP Ambassador at Binghamton University.