October 26, 2011

Testimony on Financing Public Higher Education

Author: Exec. VP Andrew Pallotta
Source: NYSUT Legislative Department

Testimony of Andrew Pallotta, Executive Vice President, New York State United Teachers to the Assembly Standing Committee on Higher Education, Hon. Deborah J. Glick, Chairperson on Financing Public Higher Education in New York State

October 26, 2011

Chairperson Glick, honorable members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee 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 public 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 Arthurine DeSola, Secretary of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC). You will hear from both Dr. Smith and Ms. DeSola in a few moments.

Thank you for convening this public hearing and for the opportunity to testify today. I also want to thank you Chairperson Glick, the Speaker, the members of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, your colleagues in the Assembly and the Assembly staff for your continued support for public higher education. The Assembly has always supported and protected the missions of our public higher education institutions to provide an affordable, accessible, quality education for our students.

When you examine the job market, it is abundantly clear that in order for individuals to obtain good paying jobs in today's knowledge-based global economy, they must first have access to a quality higher education and complete a course of study to obtain a college degree. The completion of a college degree is no longer just a laudable goal, but an imperative for individual success and ultimately our state's economic success.

While there is no doubt that our state continues to face fiscal challenges, NYSUT and our higher education affiliates are deeply concerned over the recent deep cuts sustained by our public higher education institutions. Since 2008, SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges have been cut by over $1.7 billion.

There is no doubt that these cuts have had a direct negative impact on the quality of education that our students have received. We need to make public higher education a priority in this state. That begins with a commitment from the state to begin to provide more funding to start replacing what we have lost over the last three to four years. The failure to do so will only serve to weaken our ability to compete with other states and other nations in the global economy. We are only fooling ourselves if we think we can continue the trend of disinvestment in public higher education in this state and not suffer real consequences. As Thomas Jefferson once said, "If a nation expects to be ignorant and free, in a state of civilization, it expects what never was and never will be."

We know resources are tight, but we cannot afford not to invest in public higher education. It has to be a priority. The state has to realize that funding public higher education is a smart investment that will pay dividends.

Our community colleges are a vital part of our public higher education system. They are the access point, the gateway to higher education for hundreds of thousands of people in this state. That gateway, however, is in jeopardy of closing for too many individuals because of the lack of resources which is causing tuition to steadily rise. NYSUT is extremely concerned about funding for our community colleges. Many qualified students cannot get access to high demand programs such as nursing and other technical fields that lead directly to employment. In addition, with the enactment of the two percent property tax cap, community college budgets across the state will be especially vulnerable to cuts, even more than they have been in the recent past. Local county government finances are facing severe constraints and will most likely be unable to provide the same level of funding for their local share of operating costs to these campuses. Many local sponsors have not lived up to their statutory funding obligation of providing 26.7 percent of net operating costs for these campuses. For example, currently, twelve local sponsors fail to meet their obligation with some sponsors contributing as little as 10 percent.

The state's contribution to these campuses has also fallen short of its 40 percent obligation. The state base aid per full-time student is now lower than the level in 1998-99 and lower than the level in 1971-72 when adjusted for inflation. The actual state share for 2010-11 was 26.5 percent and the projected state share for 2011-12 is 24.8 percent. The actual student share for 2010-11 was 43 percent and the projected student share for 2011-12 is 44.9 percent. We appreciate that the Assembly has been instrumental in protecting these institutions from large proposed Executive Budget cuts in recent years and we ask that you continue to push for more funding for these campuses in budget negotiations to keep them affordable and accessible to students. Some community college tuitions are approaching the tuition levels at SUNY and CUNY four- year institutions.

Speaking of SUNY and CUNY four-year campuses, NYSUT is again extremely grateful to you Chairperson Glick, the Speaker, the Assembly and your staff for your extraordinary efforts over the last few years to keep SUNY and CUNY transparent, accountable and true to their public missions by rejecting the most troublesome management flexibility proposals in the final enacted NY-SUNY 2020 legislation. Your efforts have protected our students and faculty. We are also grateful for your efforts in securing a maintenance of effort provision for SUNY and CUNY in this legislation. We know that this was no easy task.

As we head into the upcoming 2012 legislation session, we still have concerns regarding the implementation of NY-SUNY 2020. You will hear more specifics about this from Dr. Smith in a moment, but generally, NYSUT is concerned about existing campus resources that will be utilized by SUNY university centers to construct buildings. We are concerned that campus reserves that could otherwise be utilized for academic purposes and patient care will be used for NY-SUNY 2020 projects. We are also concerned that tuition revenue might be used to fund portions of these projects. Moreover, we have concerns regarding protecting the public workforce from potential outsourcing as these projects are approved and implemented.

We anticipate that there will be more legislative authority required to fully implement NY-SUNY 2020 projects and NYSUT will be submitting labor protection language for your consideration. We ask that you work with us - as you have done in the past - to ensure that our university systems maintain the public workforce.

Another area of concern for us regarding NY-SUNY 2020 is that SUNY must now fund a significant portion of these capital projects from existing capital funds. In addition, SUNY and CUNY must also self-finance a portion of student tuition assistance. We fully understand and support keeping SUNY and CUNY accessible and affordable, but we also believe that this sets a dangerous precedent and that the state should be responsible for fully funding these costs.

Let me now turn to another area of great concern for NYSUT and our higher education affiliates. In higher education, the public discourse recently has all focused on the role SUNY and CUNY can play in economic development through public/private partnerships, selling and leasing land, and other regulatory changes.

While NYSUT believes that our public higher education systems have an important role to play in economic development, we believe that the primary mission of SUNY and CUNY is teaching and learning. Providing quality academic programs to every qualified student is the most profound investment our state can make to secure economic prosperity.

We know that recent budget cuts to SUNY and CUNY have certainly had an impact on the academic quality our students are receiving. Diminishing full-time faculty ranks and the overreliance on part-time faculty is taking its toll. Students have seen their class sizes continue to rise while at the same time, course offerings have declined, programs have been eliminated and graduations have been delayed or denied. These situations are all too common within SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges.

For example, at SUNY Albany, the increase in class size in a 100 level journalism course is necessitating major changes in how the course can be taught. In 2008, the maximum student cap for this class was 35 students, which is high. By 2010, the student cap was raised to 40 students and then raised again this year to 45 students. In 2012, the university will roll three sections of this class into one big lecture hall of 100 students.

Whereas, the nature of this course demands a great deal of writing from students, it is becoming virtually impossible for writing assignments to be given simply because they cannot be graded on a timely basis and with the level of scrutiny students deserve. In fact, the syllabus for this class used to require students to write four short papers, write a longer mid-term paper, take three to five quizzes and take a written final exam. We are told by our faculty that due to the number of students in this class, there will no longer be any short papers assigned or essay questions on the final exam because it is impossible for faculty to grade their students' work in one semester. In fact, the mid-term paper might also have to be eliminated and replaced with multiple choice and short answer questions.

The same thing is happening in a 300 level intensive writing course where the student class size cap was 18 and is now 25 students. Ideally, the class size should be 10-12 students to ensure personalized feedback and written critiques of students' writing skills which is mandated by the university. Students in this class are simply not getting the level of attention that is needed and deserved because the size of the class makes it impossible.

These are just two examples of how quality is eroding at our public higher education institutions. As one of our members said to me recently, "I often have to apologize to my students for the size of the classes that I teach." She went on to say, "People tend to talk about how difficult it is for students to get into courses and how graduating on time is more difficult, but nobody talks about how dramatic increases in class sizes are dumbing down what is taught to our students." "Nobody is talking about the reduction of quality in instruction." I could not agree more with this point.

We need to re-focus our efforts on academics. We must ensure that the resources the state provides to our public higher education institutions go into the classroom. Students are now paying more for their college education, they should get more. Precious resources must not be allowed to flow away from students in the classroom to other economic development pursuits and endeavors.

Providing our students with a quality education entails having the best and brightest faculty members to teach them. Over the years, we have seen strong academic departments slowly collapse and fall apart. We must rebuild our academic departments to ensure that our students receive a quality education, get the advisement they need, and get the classes they need to graduate on time. We need to concentrate on getting as many students admitted to SUNY and CUNY as possible and providing those students the academic resources they need to graduate. This can't be done without faculty. To that end, we ask that you push for more funding specifically allocated for more full-time faculty in this year's budget negotiations.

I submit to you, that providing students with a quality education and improving graduation rates so that more highly educated and skilled individuals can enter the workforce is real economic development and is exactly what our state needs.

In conclusion, let me again thank you for all your support and efforts to further public higher education in this state. I will now turn it over to Dr. Smith who will be followed by Dr. DeSola.