NYSUT leaders and members continue to say it loud and clear — public higher education must be a priority in New York state. Hundreds of activists will tell lawmakers in Albany during lobby days this month — the union's Committee of 100 lobby day is March 5 and the higher education lobby day is March 12 — that the state must begin to provide more funding to replace what has been cut.
"The state must make a greater financial commitment to public higher education," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi.
State support for New York's state and city university systems and their community colleges has been slashed by $1.7 billion since 2008, even as enrollments and tuition charges to students and their families have increased.
The executive budget proposal essentially holds year-over-year funding flat for CUNY, the community colleges and nearly all of SUNY's campuses. SUNY's Health Science Centers would be cut by $28 million.
"Once again, there is no increased funding for the classroom and programs where students need it the most," NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta said in testimony last month before the Senate Finance and Assembly Ways and Means committees. State support for the public university systems has declined by 20 percent since 2000 and campuses must seek other revenues, including tuition hikes.
"Underfunding SUNY threatens the very purpose for which SUNY was created — to ensure that every New Yorker capable of benefiting from a baccalaureate degree program has access to such a program, regardless of affordability," said Phil Smith, president of United University Professions, which represents more than 35,000 SUNY faculty and staff.
The declining cadre of full-time faculty has long been a concern for NYSUT, UUP and the Professional Staff Congress, which represents more than 25,000 faculty and staff at CUNY. Pallotta noted, for example, that the recent NY-SUNY 2020 legislation was supposed to increase faculty and academic programs.
CUNY also faces challenges that will tarnish the "higher education jewel of New York City," said Steven London, PSC first vice president. He asked lawmakers to pass a budget, at the very least, "that funds an additional $35 million in unmet mandatory needs."
The state's community colleges fare no better in the executive budget proposal and need funding restored, union leaders said. State base aid per full-time equivalent student is still more than $400 lower than the 2008 funding level, resulting in a negative impact on the academic programs and services.
"It has meant spikes in student tuition that have priced some students out of a college education," Pallotta said.
Under the budget proposal, community colleges would lose base aid and their share of a $5 million performance-based incentive allocation if students fail to meet certain requirements. NYSUT is strongly opposing the proposed Next Generation NY Job Linkage Program which would link current state base aid to student performance in credit-bearing certificates, associate of occupational studies degrees or associate of applied science degrees.
Union leaders are also asking for funding restorations for the state's three SUNY hospitals, which are vital in providing health care, especially in low-wealth communities, and for educating medical professionals. The executive budget proposes to cut funding by 32 percent.
SUNY hospitals have suffered a 47 percent cut in funding since 2008, and one — SUNY Downstate Medical Center in Brooklyn — is in danger of being closed or privatized.
"The simple truth is that our SUNY hospitals cannot carry out their critical public health care and academic missions on this level of state funding," Pallotta said.