March 01, 2022

Tied to the pandemic, ‘hold harmless’ could be painful for community colleges

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source:  NYSUT Communications
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Caption: The governor’s spending plan would ensure colleges get at least 100 percent of what they got in last year’s budget ... and there’s the rub. “Pegging that 100 percent floor to the worst year would really hurt us,” said Tony Cruz (pictured), president of the Orange County CC Faculty Association. NYSUT is urging lawmakers to pass a budget that would tie community college funding to the relatively normal year of 2018-19, which would begin to restore funding by $35 million.

It’s a welcome change.

This year, for the first time since the Great Recession hit in December 2007, proposed funding to SUNY community colleges was not slashed in New York state’s executive budget. Lobbying efforts by NYSUT political activists did not begin from a deficit, digging out of a hole.

The governor’s spending plan would ensure colleges get at least 100 percent of what they got in last year’s budget ... and there’s the rub.

“Pegging that 100 percent floor to the worst year would really hurt us,” said Tony Cruz, president of the Orange County CC Faculty Association.

“That proposal is currently pegged to 2021-22, which we call ‘the COVID year’,” said Roberta Elins, president of the United College Employees at Fashion Institute of Technology, and a member of the NYSUT Board of Directors.

Speaking this week in a virtual legislative reception hosted by NYSUT Community College leaders and activists, Elins explained that last year’s funding reflected epic enrollment loss, and matching it this year would boost funding by only $3 million spread over all 30 community colleges.

NYSUT is urging lawmakers to pass a budget that would tie CC funding to the relatively normal year of 2018-19, which would begin to restore funding by $35 million, she said.

The flawed funding methodology that ties community college state aid to FTEs means periodic enrollment cycles can result in funding cuts even if the rate per student goes up. The problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic.

In addition, FTE data don’t always reflect reality. At Cayuga CC, “Enrollment is down, but if you dive a little deeper, you find that while our FTE is down … the number who have become part-time students has increased 38 percent,” said Eric Zizza, president of the Cayuga CC FA.

In the Zoom meeting with legislative leaders, NYSUT activists also asked for increased support for full-time faculty and for desperately needed mental health professionals on campus.

Mental health services are overwhelmed across the system, with counselors struggling to serve caseloads that range from 1 to 1,000 to 1 to 2,500.

“These numbers are not sustainable in normal times,” Elins said. ”After what our students have been through, the need is very great.”

While budget talks started off on a good note this year, community colleges, and all public higher education in New York state, have suffered from years of chronic underfunding.

“I’ve been watching conditions deteriorate,” said Faren Siminoff, president of the Nassau CC Federation of Teachers. “It’s not fair to our students, and we believe they deserve better than this. We’ve never fully recovered since 2008 when the cuts began.“

Lawmakers pledged their support.

“There has never been a more pro-education, pro-public education state Senate than the one that is currently in the chamber,” said Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins. “We’re doing everything we can (not only) to ensure everyone has access to an education, but to a good quality education.”

“I know this year we have to make greater steps to ensure community colleges not just survive, but thrive,” said Assembly Higher Education Chair Debra Glick.

“We have a good budget from the governor,” said Senate Higher Education Chair Toby Stavisky, “and it’s a budget that I believe can be made even better, by reversing the trends of the past.”

The state budget is due by April 1, the beginning of the fiscal year.

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