Why is public higher education important and what does it mean to you? Those questions were posed to dozens of public higher education leaders and supporters in a series of videos recorded over the last few months.
The videos are part of NYSUT's "Keep New York a state of mind" multi-media campaign launched earlier this year in concert with NYSUT's public higher education affiliates. The campaign calls for passage of the Public Higher Education Quality Initiative, which would create an endowment to hire more full-time faculty and professional staff; increase state support for SUNY, CUNY and community colleges; and invest in student aid and opportunity programs.
"New York's system of public higher education is the essential path to economic opportunity and equality for our students," said NYSUT President Dick Iannuzzi in his videotaped remarks.
"For decades SUNY and CUNY have provided excellent and affordable higher education for millions of New Yorkers. Chronic underfunding endangers opportunity and access," Iannuzzi said. "I ask you to support this valuable campaign."
Other video testimony ranged from heartfelt stories detailing the widespread impacts on students, faculty and staff due to $2 billion in funding cuts over the last five years to CUNY, SUNY and their community colleges to personal remembrances about the professional doors a public college education opened.
Resonating among the many thoughts was one universal thread: Public higher education in New York state is an institution worth investing in.
Ellen Schuler Mauk, chair of the NYSUT Higher Education Policy Council and a NYSUT Board member, made the point that state funding for community colleges was higher just six years ago, even though enrollments were lower than they are today.
"Community colleges were funded more in 2008 and 2009 when we had 4.2 percent fewer students," she said. "A steady funding stream over several years would help us keep up with the students we have, and begin hiring more full-time faculty."
United University Professions president Fred Kowal agreed. "This would create long-term stability and change the way public higher education has been functioning for the last 10 years," he said, explaining that in addition to hiring more full-time instruction, the shift would help reduce class sizes and provide better student supports.
For Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress and a NYSUT Board member, college is life changing for many students.
"Some student families struggle, sometimes going without food, to afford tuition," she said. "These students should be supported, not blocked in their efforts to obtain a higher education."
NYSUT Board member Andy Sako, president of the Faculty Federation of Erie County Community College, believes adequately funding New York state's SUNY, CUNY and community colleges is the only choice if the state hopes to remain competitive and recover economically.
"We need to support our students so they can move into the new jobs of the 21st century," he said.
Pat Puleo, a NYSUT Board member and Yonkers Federation of Teachers president, credits an aunt's 1950s era graduation from CUNY's Hunter College with starting a family tradition of higher education.
"She made sure the women in our family went to college and succeeded," said Puleo, who also credited state investment in public higher education with making it possible.
Rod Sherman, NYSUT Board member and Plattsburgh Teachers' Association retiree, couldn't have afforded college were it not for SUNY Plattsburgh.
"I was a farm boy, one of 10 kids, and my family didn't have a lot of money," said Sherman who used tuition waivers and other funding to attend.
Visit www.nysut.org/qualityhighered to view these and other video testimonies highlighting the importance of supporting public higher education.