by Dr. Barbara Bowen, President (March 2017)
The Excelsior Scholarship was signed into law today by Governor Cuomo. The members of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY welcome any measure that makes college more affordable and commend the governor on focusing national attention on the need for college tuition support. But without increased public investment in CUNY, Excelsior cannot achieve its full potential. Excelsior requires timely progress to graduation, but the enacted State budget for FY18 failed to provide the resources necessary to enable students to graduate on time. Nearly half of current CUNY undergraduates report not being able to take a course they need for their major. Without adequate State funding, CUNY cannot support the smaller classes, expanded faculty mentorship, improved advisement, and increased support services that are proven to improve graduation rates.
State funding for CUNY senior colleges remains essentially flat in the enacted budget. The vast majority of new funds for CUNY will come from annual tuition increases paid by the students who do not qualify for the terms of Excelsior Scholarship. The tuition hikes approved for the next four years come only with a promise not to cut State funding; there is no commitment to cover rising operating costs.
We thank CUNY’s champions in Albany for pressing hard for restorations and improvements in the final budget. We are grateful for the inclusion of funds for past collective bargaining increases for which a commitment was made last year. And we acknowledge the Legislature for fully funding CUNY’s opportunity programs and the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative, while also improving the State’s per-student investment in community colleges. But State funding per student at CUNY still lags behind pre-Recession levels, when adjusted for inflation. In a year in which the Governor rightly emphasized the importance of public higher education, it doesn’t make sense to deny CUNY the funding it needs to ensure student success.
Finally, the PSC is disappointed that student “Dreamers,” undocumented students who were brought to the U.S. as children and graduated from high school in New York, were failed once again by Albany. New York State hurts its own future by denying these brave and motivated students the same chance other students have for an affordable college degree. At a time when racism and anti-immigrant bigotry are being enacted as federal policy, New York must do better.