What could be gained
As this newspaper went to press, Congress began considering an ambitious higher education spending package as part of the Biden administration’s Build Back Better Agenda. “Tuition-free community college would become a reality under the bill through a program referred to as America’s College Promise,” Inside Higher Ed reported that the legislation “would create a federal-state partnership grant to eliminate the cost of tuition at a community college or a tribal college or university,” and that the “federal government would contribute 100 percent for the first year, decreasing its share by 5 percent for each subsequent year.”
BILLIONS AT STAKE
PSC First Vice President Andrea Vásquez noted that the bill “includes $111 billion for higher education, most significantly to make community college free and support historically Black colleges, Hispanic-serving institutions and tribal institutions, all of which include four-year colleges.” While the timing of congressional votes on the measure is uncertain, Vásquez explained that higher education advocates have been pushing on many fronts, and the PSC wants “to see free public college for all students” at two-year and four-year colleges. The union has also pressed for the inclusion of additional operating funding, plus provisions to maintain a baseline of full-time tenure-track faculty, to convert faculty on contingent appointments and to hire additional staff and improve adjunct salaries.
A PSC action letter for members to send lawmakers praised the proposal in the Build Back Better Agenda to increase the maximum Pell Grant that many low-income CUNY students receive, and the $9 billion Retention and Completion Grant program modeled after CUNY’s own ASAP (Accelerated Study in Associate Programs) and ACE (Accelerate, Complete, and Engage) initiatives. For these investments and many others, the Build Back Better Act deserves your support. But other provisions pushed by higher education advocates that are not in the proposed act must not fall by the wayside: “Fully funded, free four-year college education is what this nation needs to create an equitable economy and broad prosperity. Federal funding should be leveraged to enforce strong labor protections that ensure a living wage for all higher education workers, pay parity for adjunct and contingent faculty and a professoriate that is at least 75 percent tenure-track.”
According to a fact sheet from the American Federation of Teachers, the PSC’s national affiliate, the bill will include the following:
$1.5 billion in direct (institutional) investments for 5 years
- Hispanic-Serving Institutions (HSIs) ($113.7 million each year);
- Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) and Postsecondary Minority Institutions $113.7 million each year);
- Tribal Colleges and Universities ($34.1 million each year);
- Alaska Native or Native Hawaiian-Serving Institutions ($17.1 million each year);
- Asian American and Native American Pacific Islander-Serving Institutions (AANAPSIs) ($5.7 million each year); and
- Native American-serving Nontribal Institutions ($5.7 million each year).
Research and Development Competitive Grants
- $2 billion grant program for 4-year HBCUs and Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) to improve research and development infrastructure
- Institutions can receive planning or implementation grants to improve research and development infrastructure.
- Allowable uses of funds for this infrastructure includes several references to faculty, including “hiring and retaining faculty” and “creating new, or expanding existing, academic positions.”
But Higher Ed Labor United, a coalition of more than 80 unions and other groups in higher education, believes much more can be done. The group said the bill should also include:
- Free college in both 2 and 4-year institutions
- 75% tenure-track floor for all institutions with conversion of job type for existing contingents
- Pay parity for adjuncts, living wages for all staff, and union neutrality
- Spend all excess federal funds to institutions on increasing wages and tenure density
The group also noted that much more can be done to protect labor rights in higher education. It said that the final version of the bill should include “pay equity for all faculty and staff with access to benefits and the right organize collectively.”