January 27, 2010

Testimony on the Proposed Budget for Higher Education

Source: NYSUT Legislative Department
pallotta

Exec. VP Andrew Pallotta

Testimony of Andrew Pallotta, Executive Vice President, New York State United Teachers, to the Senate Finance Committee, Carl Kruger, Chair, and Assembly Ways and Means Committee, Herman D. Farrell, Jr., Chair, on the Proposed 2010-11 Executive Budget for Higher Education.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Senator Kruger, Assemblyman Farrell, honorable members of the Legislature and distinguished staff, I am Andrew Pallotta, Executive Vice President of New York State United Teachers (NYSUT). NYSUT represents more than 600,000 teachers, school-related professionals, academic and professional faculty in higher education, professionals in education, in health care and retirees statewide. My testimony today represents the concerns of 68,000 faculty and professional staff who work in colleges and universities across New York State. These include the members of United University Professions at the State University of New York, the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York and the faculty and staff at nearly all the SUNY community colleges in this state.

I am joined today by Dr. Phillip Smith, President of United University Professions (UUP), and by Dr. Barbara Bowen, President of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). You will hear from both Dr. Smith and Dr. Bowen concerning the 2010-11 Executive Budget in a few moments.

Thank you for convening these public hearings and for the opportunity to testify today.

There is no doubt that our state continues to face enormous fiscal challenges. This will require the Legislature to make very difficult choices as you work to negotiate a balanced state fiscal plan for 2010-11.

NYSUT is committed to working with you in finding real additional sources of revenue to mitigate the need for drastic cuts in state aid for pre-K through post-graduate educational programs. To that end, we have been working in coalition with our brothers and sisters in the labor movement and other groups to identify areas where the state can enhance its revenues and affect efficiencies and savings without gutting the delivery of vital public services. We will be providing you with these proposals in the near future. In addition, once again we will head to Washington, D.C. in the coming weeks and work with our national affiliates, the American federation of Teachers and the AFL-CIO, to strongly advocate for additional federal support for New York state.

Again, while we recognize our state's fiscal situation, we strongly oppose the proposed cuts contained in the 2010-11 Executive Budget to our educational institutions. We believe that the Executive Budget pursues an unbalanced approach for dealing with our state's finances, especially in the area of public higher education.

Unfortunately, the Executive Budget proposal continues to disproportionately cut SUNY and CUNY four-year institutions as compared to any other state agencies. In the last two years, SUNY's state-operated campuses have been cut by a staggering $410 million. If the Executive Budget cut of $118 million is adopted, SUNY's cut will rise to $528 million. During the same time, CUNY's senior colleges have been cut by an alarming $165 million which will grow to $228.6 million in recurring cuts if the Executive Budget cut of $63.6 million is not rejected. Still, the damage does not end there for SUNY and CUNY as they are subject to additional cuts of $30.9 million and $20.8 million respectively if our members do not negotiate personal service savings in those amounts with the state. With these additional cuts factored in, the total state aid loss to SUNY over the last three state fiscal years will equal $558.9 million while CUNY will lose $249.4 million. Taken together, our public higher education four-year institutions will have been cut by an unbelievable $808.3 million or nearly $1 billion for state fiscal years 2008-09 through 2010-11. That combined total cut equates to approximately 40% of all state agency reductions during that time.

Two years ago, none of us would have believed that this could happen. Moreover, given that both universities are experiencing unprecedented enrollment growth, it is unreasonable for SUNY and CUNY to absorb the magnitude of these cuts over such a short period of time and be expected to carry out their missions of providing an accessible quality education to the public. After years of inadequate state support, coupled with the draconian cuts taken over the last two years – much of which has come through mid-year reductions – SUNY and CUNY have no more to give. We are starving public higher education at a time when our citizens and this state need it the most.

While faculty and staff at these institutions have done miraculous work in maintaining quality academic programs for their students with significantly less state resources, the fact is that we are now at the breaking point in terms of maintaining quality and preserving student access to SUNY and CUNY. Too many enrolled students are continually subjected to fewer full-time faculty, larger class sizes, and cannot get the classes they need to graduate on time. Additionally, thousands of deserving and qualified applicants have been denied admission over the last two years.

Moreover, access problems will be exacerbated if you accept the Executive's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) proposals. The Executive Budget reduces funding to this program and modifies academic and eligibility standards. Some of these include: Reducing all awards by $75, eliminating awards for graduate students, reducing maximum awards for two-year degree programs from $5,000 to $4,000 and increasing academic standards for continued eligibility by providing that all non-remedial students must earn at least 15 credits and a 1.8 GPA after two semesters of study. NYSUT opposes these cuts and eligibility modifications. We should be expanding access to higher education not curtailing it, especially in times of economic distress. It makes no sense to deny our citizens a college education. Education is the great equalizer and a college education is essential in today's society to obtain a good job that pays a living wage.

NYSUT, however, opposes expanding TAP awards to students at faith-related institutions that train clergy or offer religious instruction. While we are sympathetic to those students who may need financial help who attend these institutions, we believe this expansion is unjustifiable considering the fact that traditional student awards are proposed to be cut and/or modified. For this reason we ask that you reject it.

Finally, on the issue of TAP, there is no question that this program has enabled thousands of New Yorkers to obtain a college education that otherwise would have been out of their reach. It is important to note however, that too often governors have played the game of cutting TAP knowing that the Legislature will likely restore this cut first and have little ability to restore operating cuts to SUNY and CUNY. Years of playing this game have caused the untenable fiscal position that our public higher education institutions find themselves in today. It is even more disturbing when you consider the fact that the state today provides less state aid to SUNY than it did in 1990. Restorations of TAP coupled with precipitous losses in state aid is a cruel and ironic hoax being played on students which has ultimately limited their access to SUNY and CUNY as campuses no longer have the capacity to admit them. With student applications now at an all time high, this is troubling.

While TAP is a vitally important program for students, what good is a TAP award if an academically qualified student can't get into SUNY or CUNY? What is the real value of TAP to an enrolled student whose award is eroded through higher tuition and fees, who can not get the classes needed to graduate, who is just a number in an overcrowded classroom, or who can not get a full-time faculty member for instruction or advisement?

What students and our public higher education institutions desperately need the most right now is a commitment from the state to protect them by providing an investment in operating budgets, student aid and opportunity programs in this year's budget. While this will certainly not reverse the disproportionate cuts that they have been subjected to over the last two years, it will at least stop the bleeding. NYSUT strongly believes that this is reasonable and warranted. We ask for your support in this matter.

Unfortunately, the Executive Budget provides further deep cuts to SUNY and CUNY and seems to justify this action by granting these institutions increased management flexibility through the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. NYSUT, and our higher education affiliates, have deep concerns over many of the provisions contained in this proposal.

One of the most troubling provisions for NYSUT is the elimination of appropriation in the state budget for tuition and other special revenues. In the absence of appropriation by the Legislature, the public loses the guarantee that tuition money will be spent solely within campus operating budgets and specifically for the students who finance them. In effect, this proposal issues SUNY and CUNY a blank check for spending tuition and fees without any guarantee that these revenues will be spent in the first instance only for the benefit of academic programs and services. Moreover, reporting provisions contained in this measure are a very poor substitute for the accountability and transparency inherent in a legislative appropriations process. In addition, this proposal sets the stage for the state to further disinvest public resources in SUNY and CUNY.

Recently, our state enacted much needed public authority reform that provides the state and the public with more transparency and accountability with respect to these entities. It is highly ironic that we are now considering doing the exact opposite with SUNY and CUNY by making them more like the old public authorities.

In addition, this act allows SUNY and CUNY to raise tuition prior to the enactment of the budget and authorizes differential tuition. General tuition raises prior to the enactment of the budget are subject to a limitation of two and a half times the five year rolling average of the higher education price index. If enacted, this would allow for a double digit raise in tuition next year. Moreover, differential tuition is exempted from this cap. NYSUT believes that there is nothing rational or predictable about this tuition proposal. It will only cause further limitations on student access in these tough economic times which contradicts the missions of our public universities.

The proposal also authorizes SUNY and CUNY to enter into contracts without appropriate governmental oversight, to engage in public/private partnerships and lease campus property to private entities. While claims have been made that these reforms will produce 10,000 new campus jobs and 64,000 new construction jobs, we respectfully submit that there is no evidence to suggest that any significant number of jobs would be produced. SUNY, following Legislative approval, has been engaged in a number of public/private joint ventures over the last decade which have produced virtually no revenue or benefit to students or their campuses. In fact, for example, the Centers of Excellence actually cost the campuses on which they are located a combined $36 million annually while providing no revenue to offset these costs.

While NYSUT is amenable to certain provisions of this proposal, we strongly believe that many of the provisions are simply not warranted and would only serve to privatize New York's universities and limit student access. You will hear more on this topic from my colleagues. 

I would now like to turn to the issue of community college base aid. This is another area of deep concern for NYSUT. NYSUT strongly opposes the governor's proposal to cut SUNY and CUNY community college base aid by $285 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student or $56.7 million. This proposed cut is on top of a mid-year reduction of $130 per FTE student and would bring the state per-student expenditure to $2,260, the lowest it's been in a decade. These job-killing cuts will slow New York's economic recovery and do irreparable harm to students and the neediest New Yorkers.

Hundreds of thousands of people depend on these institutions as an entry point to achieve a college degree or to get specialized training. In fact, the demand for the academic services provided by these campuses has gone up dramatically as people have lost their jobs and seek further education and technical skills to become more marketable in an extremely difficult job market. Moreover, our community colleges are often the only choice for many qualified high school graduates who cannot afford private colleges and who are shut out of SUNY and CUNY four-year institutions due to their lack of capacity to place them. This is especially true of minority students who make up almost 21 percent of the student population at SUNY community colleges and over 80 percent of the student body at CUNY community colleges.

Enrollment at community colleges has reached record levels. At SUNY community colleges, enrollment was up 9.8 percent in 2009 for a total of 242,742 students which is 20,000 students more than the student population attending SUNY four-year campuses. Fourteen SUNY community colleges reported growth in enrollment of more than 10 percent and four campuses grew by more than 15 percent. This explosion in SUNY community college enrollment growth is fueled by an increase of 10.8 percent in first time full-time students, an increase in new transfer students of 21.4 percent, and an 11.8 percent increase in continuing students.

At CUNY community colleges, enrollment was up by nine percent in 2009 and now totals 88,323 students attending the systems' six community colleges. Four of the six campuses have seen enrollments grow by well over 10 percent since 2008 and the number of applicants who selected a CUNY community college as their first-choice increased by 60 percent. Over the last decade, enrollment has increased by 43 percent at these campuses.

It is through public higher education institutions, especially are our community colleges, that working class New Yorkers are afforded the opportunity to earn a college degree and to obtain a good job. According to the NYS Department of Labor, our state's unemployment rate is now over nine percent and rising. Taking away educational opportunities for first-time students and returning students will not improve the unemployment rate in this state and will only serve to make it worse.

We have heard from administrators and our members working at these campuses that these cuts would be devastating. Many have told us that they don't know how they can continue to do an effective job of educating students and training displaced workers in their communities. We have also heard that some campuses may have to cap enrollment because they simply can not afford to take on the increased demand with the resources that they receive from the state. That would mean that these campuses would no longer be full opportunity campuses. This is very troubling when you consider the fact that there are now more full-time students registering at community colleges than at any other time in recent memory.

We are also deeply troubled by the chargeback proposal for baccalaureate programs for the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT). This institution has a world-wide reputation for the unique programs it offers in the area of fashion design and is truly a jewel in the SUNY community college system. If enacted, this unfair proposal will have a dire impact on the finances of this great institution. In addition, we must protect the community college status of this institution which we are concerned may be compromised in the future if this proposal is adopted.

Our community colleges are a vital component of public higher education system. Cuts to community colleges are the wrong choice to help us out of this economic crisis. If enacted, these cuts will be far more costly to the state in both economic and human terms than the $56.7 million in savings is worth to our state's General Fund. We urge you to reject them.

In conclusion, I want to make it clear again that we understand the gravity of the fiscal crisis. Public higher education however, has suffered enough cuts over the last two years. We ask that you reject the proposed cuts to SUNY, CUNY and the community colleges and to also address their critical needs. You have NYSUT's commitment to work with you so that we can protect education for millions of students from pre-K through post-graduate.

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today.