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Home » Clarion » 2018 » February 2018 » Pressing for full higher-ed funding

Pressing for full higher-ed funding

PSC President Barbara Bowen explained in testimony to the state legislature that the governor’s higher education funding proposal didn’t make up for years of disinvestment.

Governor Andrew Cuomo presented a budget proposal for higher education that continues the pattern of state disinvestment. As PSC President Barbara Bowen told state lawmakers last month, the proposal is not enough to make up for the decades of underfunding to SUNY and CUNY. “New York has invested strongly in access to education,” she said. “But the funding for access is not met with funding for resources. That’s the basic story.”

Governor Cuomo has promoted public higher education with the introduction of the Excelsior Scholarship (which grants free tuition at SUNY and CUNY to full-time students from households earning less than $110,000 per year). At the same time, Bowen said,“state appropriations for the operating budgets have gone down year after year, so this year’s executive proposal is presented as an increase but it’s actually a decrease.”


What’s more, the governor’s budget proposal came after his December veto of the Maintenance of Effort bill, supported by SUNY and CUNY advocates and passed nearly unanimously by both legislative houses. The bill, had it been approved, would have annually added resources to CUNY’s budget to cover inflationary increases to operating costs such as rent, energy and collective bargaining, restoring budget stability.

The need for a more dramatic increase in state funding for CUNY could hardly be more urgent. “CUNY’s undergraduate enrollment is up by 40 percent (77,500) since 2000, the equivalent of the total number of students at Hunter and Baruch Colleges combined,” Bowen said. “It’s as if CUNY had added two colleges.”

In fact, on January 2 CUNY reported an 11-percent increase in first-year applications, in part attributed to the implementation of the Excelsior Scholarship.

Below, in testimony both to the state legislature and in statements to Clarion, higher education advocates reflect on the governor’s proposal, veto of the MOE and the road forward.

What CUNY needs now

New York State has invested strongly in student access to higher education through the Excelsior Scholarship and the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), but has failed to invest sufficiently in student success. Access is not meaningful without the resources to succeed. As New York invests more in access, it must also increase investment in the personnel and programs needed to educate CUNY’s growing student body so the greater access will be meaningful. The state must invest $300 million in quality education, support for graduation and greater student success.

  • The most immediate step the legislature can take to begin to restore funding for CUNY this year is to cover the $59 million “TAP gap” caused by the legal requirement that CUNY provide eligible students with a “tuition waiver credit,” covering the difference between the rate of tuition and the maximum TAP award.
  • Allocating $16 million to increase the base aid rate for CUNY community colleges to $3,000 per FTE (full-time equivalent) student should be the next priority.
  • A further priority should be additional funding to improve student success rates for CUNY’s growing student body by increasing the number of full-time faculty positions and counseling staff and increasing support for adjunct instructors.

The 2019 New York State Executive Budget continues the strategy of decreasing per-student funding for CUNY. The PSC believes strongly that this strategy hurts CUNY students, diminishes the quality of education, contributes to students’ difficulty in graduation and undermines the progressive vision of the state. New York must have the courage, even in a difficult budget year, to change this strategy. We ask for the legislature’s help in making that change.

We commend the governor for taking a strong position on the importance of college education for the future of New York State. But that position must be reflected in a final enacted budget that invests public funds in CUNY and SUNY.

State funding for CUNY must be measured per FTE student and must be adjusted for inflation. By that measure, direct state support for CUNY senior colleges has declined by 18 percent since the Great Recession of 2008. Using the same measure (per FTE student and adjusted for inflation), direct state support for CUNY senior colleges has declined by almost 4 percent since Governor Cuomo took office. The disinvestment in CUNY must not continue, especially at a time when New York State seeks to position itself as a leader in access and quality in higher education. Both will be at risk if additions are not made for fiscal year 2019.


If CUNY is to reach its full potential, students must have the resources to enable them to succeed and achieve a college degree. The investments they need include more full-time faculty, fair pay for the adjunct faculty who teach the majority of CUNY courses and more academic advisement and support.

In Fall 2000, CUNY employed 7,800 adjunct faculty. In Fall 2016, it employed 14,400 adjuncts. Those numbers reveal the secret of how CUNY has coped with the enormous growth in enrollment since 2000 without a growth in per-student funding: adjuncts.

As per-FTE-student funding went down and the demand for courses went up, CUNY tried to solve the problem by staffing its courses with thousands of adjunct faculty – whom it paid at less than half the rate of full-time faculty. That pattern must end. It is unconscionable for a university to rely for more than half of its core work – teaching – on shamefully underpaid workers. And it is unfair to the adjuncts themselves, to their full-time colleagues and above all to students to expect underpaid, part-time and contingent faculty to be able to provide the continuity, mentoring and access to research opportunities students need in order to succeed in college.

Barbara Bowen
President, Professional Staff Congress

A bad veto

Maintenance of Effort (MOE), or some other means of providing consistent ongoing funding that SUNY and CUNY can rely on, is essential. Without MOE, we are forced to cut programs in order to meet basic expenses, such as rent and utilities, which increase annually and which, to a large degree, we can’t control.

If CUNY’s widely lauded Accelerated Study in Associate Programs has taught us anything, it is that an up-front investment in our students will more than pay off in increased time to graduation, and more graduates leads to more working New Yorkers contributing to the tax base. CUNY is doing its part by looking for operating efficiencies, and the governor has helped with Excelsior and his most recent suggestion on food banks, but for the hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers who rely on public education to achieve the upward social mobility that is America’s promise, it is insufficient.

Katherine Conway
President, CUNY University Faculty Senate

The SUNY situation

Full-time faculty were hit hard by the budget cuts. The university employed more than 10,000 full-time faculty to instruct 185,000 students at the turn of the century. Today, there are just over 8,000 full-time, tenure-track faculty to teach over 222,000 students. Because of inadequate resources, campuses were forced to rely on hard-working part-time academic faculty for instruction to fill the gaps.

With increasing enrollments at SUNY’s four-year colleges, campuses are in need of increased aid to hire more full-time faculty and maintain and provide necessary services for these students. It will be a strain for SUNY to meet this commitment under the proposed Executive Budget.

These problems will only become more evident and more pressing with more students coming to SUNY through the Excelsior Scholarship program.

It is time for SUNY and the state to commit to an increase in the percentage of full-time faculty, who have more time to devote to student advisement and out-of-class interaction, which is essential to improving completion rates – especially for low-income students, students of color and first-generation students.

Frederick Kowal
President, United University Professions

Taking the next step

The enactment of the Excelsior Scholarship Program last year was the first step in increasing access to public higher education. The program highlighted the importance of New York’s public higher education institutions, which resulted in an increase in applicants. For example, CUNY recently reported an 11-percent increase in applicants for the 2018-19 academic year, which they attributed to the Excelsior Scholarship Program.

This is the year for New York to take the second step and focus on the quality of the education offered at our institutions. We cannot speak about access to public higher education without discussing funding to preserve and enhance the quality of education. Doing so would be a disservice to the tens of thousands of students our members serve. While this budget supports the expansion of the Excelsior Scholarship Program, we are disheartened to see that it is not accompanied with additional funding for the academic programs, supports and advisement needed to help all students graduate on time. Access to public higher education is important, but we cannot stress enough that it must be paired with the necessary resources to enable them to succeed.

The Executive Budget holds SUNY’s and CUNY’s instructional core budgets flat from last year’s funding level. Unfortunately for our students, this has been the case for many years and needs to be addressed. As enrollment increases at our four-year campuses, so must the state’s investment to protect and enhance the quality of education accessed by all students.

Andy Pallotta
President, NYSUT

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