Higher Education
February 04, 2020

Support for public higher education can change - and save - lives

Author: Ned Hoskin
higher ed
Caption: Mindy Heath of SUNY Upstate Medical (left) and Darlene Mayers of Farmingdale State advocate for closing the TAP Gap. “It’s unacceptable when we know the reasons and the consequences,” said Mayers. The TAP Gap costs campuses more than $150 million per year. Photo by Ned Hoskin.

Last year, Tom Tucker’s brother-in-law was hospitalized with chronic pain in his head. One medical center diagnosed cancer and wanted to operate immediately. He wanted a second opinion.

The patient, however, did not have the most comprehensive health insurance. He went to a major cancer center that said it did not look like cancer, but also recommended urgent surgery. What a relief, but there was a problem.

The center would not take his insurance.

Long story short, Tucker’s brother-in-law went to SUNY Upstate Medical Center where he had successful surgery, regardless of his underinsured status. He’s been fine ever since.

Tucker, a grassroots lobbyist-for-a-day of United University Professions, NYSUT’s affiliate representing academic and professional faculty on SUNY campuses, shared the story in a higher education lobby day meeting with Assembly member Karen McMahon, D–Buffalo.

“And the surgeon, he was a UUP member, as well,” he said.

Tucker told McMahon the lack of the state subsidy in the governor’s executive budget proposal puts all three SUNY hospitals in a precarious position. The subsidy dollars help offset costs of caring for a number of underinsured and uninsured patients while also educating the next generation of doctors and other medical professionals.

“It would be devastating for the communities if we can’t restore those funds,” he said.

Higher Ed Advocacy Day

The executive budget proposal would flatline state aid to SUNY, CUNY and community colleges again. It’s an annual 0 percent increase for higher ed that has become a troubling tradition.

Scores of NYSUT higher education activists spread throughout a very busy Capitol complex today for the union’s annual higher ed advocacy day. They shared stories like the one above to illustrate the real-life implications of the funding decisions made in the statehouse every year.

Lucy McIntyre of Professional Staff Congress at CUNY, said the university’s inability to fund infrastructure and class sections has ruined its traditional high level of access.

“Students don’t have the chance they used to have to come to CUNY in August to register for classes in the fall. We have to cut off registration in June because we don’t have any seats left,” McIntyre said.

“It all goes back to, the university needs more money,” from state aid not from tuition, said PSC’s Sharon Persinger, because the students cannot afford more tuition.

Members also advocated closing the TAP Gap, which forces campuses to fund the difference between the Tuition Assistance Program and the actual tuition costs. It totals more than $150 million a year.

Roberta Elins, president of the United College Employees at FIT and chair of NYSUT’s community college conference, said the problem has grown.

“In the past, we discussed the Gap as a problem on state-operated (four-year) campuses,” she said. “Unfortunately, it is becoming an issue at community colleges, as well.”

All this takes money, and the union members came to Albany bearing solutions.

NYSUT has proposed new taxes on ultrawealthy New Yorkers that would easily provide the needed revenue.

New taxes on income over $50 million, on stock transfers and on second homes, would be very doable. Naysayers fear taxes will drive people out of the state. UUP’s Fred Floss said that is not going to happen.

“We’re talking about Wall Street,” he said. “The face-to-face contact is still what makes Wall Street work. They aren’t going to move away.”