Flat funding for the state's public higher education system is inadequate to meet burgeoning enrollments at all levels, and will undermine the value of a college education, NYSUT's higher education leaders told lawmakers Wednesday.
NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta was joined by Phil Smith, president of United University Professions at the State University of New York; and Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress at the City University of New York, for a heartfelt appeal to the Senate Finance Committee and the Assembly Ways and Means Committee. UUP and PSC represent the faculty and staff at their respective systems.
The hearing marked the opening round of what is expected to be a tough budget battle, as NYSUT continues to demand more full-time faculty, smaller classes throughout the public higher education system, and greater state and county support for the overstressed community colleges — where faculty at some campuses is 75 percent part-time instructors. The state's three public higher education systems have lost $1.7 billion in state funding since 2008.
Smith added an urgent plea for the SUNY hospitals in his remarks to lawmakers. State funding for the public hospitals was cut last year by $68 million, and Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn faces possible closure.
"When it comes to our teaching hospitals, no one in need of health care gets turned away," Smith said. "That is why these are public institutions. That is why the state needs to properly support them."
Bowen noted that CUNY serves a student body in which 28 percent of the students come from families with incomes of less than $20,000 a year. She told the lawmakers that "it is a cruel and persistent myth that financial aid protects all low-income students from the effects of tuition hikes," and urged lawmakers to increase funding to the state's Tuition Assistance Program to help low-income students face what is expected to be a 30 percent increase in CUNY tuition in the next four years.