Lawmakers clearly recognize the value of special opportunity programs for public higher education students, as evidenced by their support this legislative session for SUNY's Educational Opportunity Program and other academic services.
Now, as members of the NYSUT Higher Education Policy Council discussed Friday before the NYSUT RA, the challenge is to get lawmakers to give that same support to the state's public higher education system as a whole.
"We have gotten positive reactions from legislators about access and diversity," said Jamie Dangler, vice president for academics at United University Professions, which represents academic faculty and staff at the State University of New York. "We can craft a message of funding the entire public higher education system in a way that's fair."
The Higher Education Policy Council, led by Roberta Elins — who is also president of the United College Employees of the Fashion Institute of Technology — serves as an advisory body to NYSUT. At the heart of the council's effort since the start of the Great Recession in 2008 has been the development of strategies to reverse a pattern of state funding cuts to public higher education — nearly a billion total in those seven years for SUNY, the City University of New York and the community colleges.
L-R: UCATS President Stephen Rechner; PSC Vice President Steve London; and Faculty Association
Suffolk Community College President Kevin Peterman.
In the final state budget, community colleges received a $100 increase per full-time student for operating aid, and SUNY and CUNY received $15 million and $12 million respectively. NYSUT, in concert with UUP and PSC, defeated the governor's proposal to withhold 10 percent of funding for SUNY and CUNY campuses until they completed vague performance-based requirements. What the council wants is a sustained effort of broad-based funding for all students, and for the systems as a whole.
To that end, council members agreed that a task force within the body will work with NYSUT to develop a public awareness campaign that will focus on this need, and will serve to educate not only lawmakers, but students, their families and all New Yorkers of how severely the state is underfunding public higher education. That effort may start with examining NYSUT's "Keep New York a State of Mind" media campaign.
"The Legislature is being bombarded with a series of different messages," said Steve London, first vice president of the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY. "I think we need to say somehow that the core is being hollowed out."