March Issue
March 01, 2015

A promise broken Cuomo plan betrays higher ed again

Author: Ned Hoskin and Darryl McGrath
Source: NYSUT United
From left: PSC’s Vice President Steve London and President Barbara Bowen, and UUP President Fred Kowal testify before a joint legislative panel.
Caption: From left: PSC's Vice President Steve London and President Barbara Bowen, and UUP President Fred Kowal testify before a joint legislative panel.

In 2011, the governor — with support from the Legislature — looked ahead and made a promise to the students of the city and state universities of New York.He promised that every dollar of his 24 percent tuition increase would enhance education — adding faculty, reducing class size and expanding program offerings. Students and their families would pay more, but the state would do its share by maintaining funding levels and covering increased mandatory costs. That was the promise of the NYSUNY2020 challenge grant program, which also governed the funding structure for CUNY.

Never happened.

The state has failed to cover mandatory inflationary costs; as a result, millions of dollars of additional tuition have been needed to plug the holes in the budget.

"Instead of providing the resources promised for smaller classes and more full-time faculty, the students' new tuition dollars were used to keep the lights on," said Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen in testimony to the joint legislative hearing on Cuomo's public higher education budget proposal. "New York's public university students have been betrayed, and their colleges have been impoverished."

At the same hearing, United University Professions President Fred Kowal said the governor's budget continues a trend of disinvestment in SUNY and would continue to force students to carry the majority of the university's funding.

"This fails to provide funding necessary to support SUNY's public hospitals and the basic expenses of the state-operated campuses," he said. "The state must provide SUNY with its fair share to fulfill its mission to provide educational services of the highest quality, with the broadest possible access."

"Students are shouldering far too much of the weight in funding the academic services and programs offered on campuses," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta, in written testimony. "The governor again grossly underfunds public higher education and adds insult to injury by subjecting our campuses to ill-conceived pay-for-performance schemes designed to hide his lack of support for our campuses and our students."

UUP has been scathing in its criticism of the governor's proposal for performance-based funding, dismissing it as an outdated idea that has failed in several other states. Kowal said the plan would lead colleges to favor students deemed more likely to succeed and flies in the face of a key part of SUNY's mission — to support underserved, low-income students.

Likewise, citing the threat to CUNY's mission, Bowen said, "the performance measures would skew curriculum to the short-term needs of employers and rob our students of the skills and knowledge that [are] the best predictors of lasting success."

Pallotta blasted the Cuomo scheme to develop regional community college councils, which would tie curriculum on campuses to regional economic development trends, restricting access to broader study.

"Our community colleges should not be turned into short-term placement centers," Pallotta said. "They are educational institutions. Students should be afforded the full spectrum of educational disciplines and programs."

NYSUT's Higher Ed Lobby Day in late February saw hundreds of faculty activists roll into Albany. Coinciding with that advocacy week, UUP launched a TV ad campaign and PSC went on the air with a radio message. NYSUT placed print ads and put up billboards. NYSUT President Karen E. Magee taped a video appeal for higher ed, as well.

As part of its Public Higher Education Quality Initiative, NYSUT is urging the Legislature to take several steps:

  • Provide increased funding and a real maintenance of effort for SUNY and CUNY four-year campuses that includes mandatory costs.
  • Provide an increase of $250 per full-time equivalent student.
  • Reject performance-based funding which would shortchange students and has no track record of success.
  • Create an endowment to restore and rebuild SUNY and CUNY academic departments through the addition of full-time faculty and professional staff.
  • Reject the governor's cuts to SUNY hospitals and restore funding back to the 2010-11 level of $128 million. Reject for-profit ownership operation of hospitals, and provide capital funding for comprehensive ambulatory care facilities in Brooklyn.
  • Reject the 2015-16 Executive Budget assault on teacher preparation programs.
  • Pass the NY Dream Act and invest strongly in student financial aid and opportunity programs, update and reform the state's Tuition Assistance Program.
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