Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s preliminary budget for 2012-13 proposes $250.5 million in City funding for CUNY. That amount holds community college base aid at the same level as this year – but without the inflationary adjustments requested by CUNY. Bloomberg’s budget would also zero out City support for programs like the the Vallone Scholarships, the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and others that the City Council has supported in the past.
“While we are in a better starting place than last year, this would still leave CUNY in a hole,” said PSC First Vice President Steve London. “Our students will continue to suffer if we don’t increase City funding of CUNY’s community colleges.”
The mayor’s proposal fails to include $8.2 million for mandatory cost increases. Simply to maintain CUNY’s basic functions – for example, to ensure that CUNY’s classrooms have heat this winter – more funds are needed. The PSC is also making the case for modest additional support to cover growing enrollment and repair the effects of decades of past disinvestment.
“We don’t accept that CUNY has to be poor,” PSC President Barbara Bowen testified at a March 9
City Council hearing. Bowen was joined at the hearing, held by the Council’s Higher Education Committee, by faculty from three community colleges.
Other PSC panelists described the accumulated effects of underfunding on CUNY’s community colleges – especially on the 46% of students who come from households with annual incomes below $20,000.
Karla Fuller, an assistant professor of biology, described teaching a class at BMCC with 29 students in a classroom that seated only 15. “With 29 students crammed in – some in desks, some on the floor – I’m usually teaching standing in the doorway,” she said. The room they use for lab sessions has only 24 stations, so five students are unable to do their own experiments. “You can’t expect them to succeed and be a beacon for CUNY students of the future under these conditions,” Fuller told Council members.
Fuller is now a member of the faculty at CUNY’s New Community College, slated to welcome its first students this Fall. “We know what will help students to graduate on time and at a higher level of academic skill,” said Fuller. “But…our colleagues throughout CUNY can’t succeed without funding to lower class size.”
“Our students come from families who find it hard to put together the money for tuition – not to mention books or the bus fare they need to get to class on time,” said Judy Barbanel, a professor who teaches developmental studies at QCC. “In my department we try to help students who can’t afford their textbooks by giving them other options such as renting books or having reading material on reserve. We have to make college accessible.”
Joyce Moorman, a professor of music at BMCC, described students who worked, cared for family members and went to school but lacked the money for items like eyeglasses so they could read what she was writing on the blackboard. “My students have to work,” she said, “many of them at full-time jobs. This means they come to school tired, with family issues, with lots of personal stress.”
CUNY’s trend toward higher tuition, and increased reliance on student tuition dollars, has disastrous effects on students who live this close to the economic edge, Bowen testified. “Tuition has grown to 42% of total community college funding – that’s double the percentage 20 years ago,” she said. CUNY raised tuition twice last year – $150 last spring and $300 in the fall. Our community college’s tuition and fees are now 130% of the national average – despite the fact that our community college students are among the poorest in the country.”
To address those needs – or, as Fuller put it, “to stick up for our students” – the PSC is asking the Council to support the following additional changes to the mayor’s proposed budget:
*Include $4.6 million, as recommended by CUNY, to hire full-time faculty and expand student services, including academic tutoring, career counseling and mental health services. (In 2007, the PSC found that CUNY community colleges had only one licensed mental health counselor for every 2,236 students. This problem has only grown more acute since then, with soaring enrollment and years of budget cuts.)
*Restore $11 million to the Vallone Scholarships and $4 million to the Safety Net financial aid program.
*Provide full funding for programs that the Council has supported in the past, including the Murphy Institute for Worker Education and Labor Studies, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies, Dominican Studies Institute, and Creative Arts Team as well as the Black Male Initiative and the Young Men’s Initiative.
*Move toward expanding CUNY’s successful Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) from the cohort of community college students it currently serves to all 96,000 current community college students at CUNY.
CUNY launched ASAP in Fall 2007 to provide a full range of support to a select group of students, in an attempt to boost three-year graduation rates at community colleges. ASAP students enjoy smaller class sizes, comprehensive advisement and career development services, as well as financial assistance including tuition waivers (for financial-aid-eligible students), free textbooks and monthly MetroCards. The original cohort of 1,132 students saw a three-year graduation rate of 55%, more than triple the national three-year graduation rate at urban community colleges.
“ASAP has proven what is possible,” Bowen told the hearing. “We cannot look at ASAP’s results without wanting the same level of attention for all community college students.”
Bowen noted that the price tag for a full expansion of ASAP could cost up to $300 million per year, but said this kind of money could be raised by closing tax loopholes and other measures to make sure the richest 1% pay their fair share. “What incredible rewards for these students, their families, communities and the city at large would be reaped if the city made this investment,” Bowen said.
To participate in “CUNY at the Council” on Wednesday May 2, email Amanda Magalhaes or call her at 212-354-1252.
Inside the State Capitol for Higher Education