May 2015 Issue
April 27, 2015

Unions stand up to Cuomo's higher education agenda

Author: NYSUT United Staff
Source: NYSUT United
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Caption: PSC Vice President Steve London preps a team of advocates before their meetings with lawmakers on Higher Education Lobby Day at the Capitol. Photo by Marty Kerins, Jr.

Strong advocacy by NYSUT and its affiliates - United University Professions at SUNY, the Professional Staff Congress at CUNY and the community colleges - beat back many of Gov. Cuomo's proposals for public higher education.

"Our members went on the offensive against a governor who turned his back on college students and their campuses," said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andy Pallotta. "Clearly, state legislators took notice and tried to fix many of the governor's attempts to disinvest in public higher education. However, we know more work needs to be done and we will not let up."

Activists rallied at the Capitol, wrote letters and emails, made radio broadcasts and posted billboards to remind lawmakers to invest in public higher education. "Lawmakers who have been friends of public higher education did the best they could do with a difficult situation," said UUP President Fred Kowal. "With proposals they did not like but could not completely eliminate, they did their best to mitigate the full effects of the governor's flawed vision."

Lawmakers nullified the governor's proposed $18.6 million cut in the state hospital subsidy and his plan to withhold 10 percent of funding for SUNY and CUNY campuses until they complete a campus-specific performance funding plan.

Both SUNY and CUNY community colleges will receive a state base aid increase of $100 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student, bringing the total level of funding to $2,597 per FTE. Cuomo had proposed cutting community college aid by 10 percent for failure to meet vague and convoluted "performance" measures.

The budget addresses burgeoning student debt by setting up a loan forgiveness program for state residents who attended college in New York and graduated in or after the 2014-15 academic year and continue to live in the state.

For qualified residents who earn under $50,000, the state would pay the first two years of monthly student loan obligations under the federal Pay As You Earn (PAYE) loan repayment program.

For SUNY, the state budget provides an overall increase of $15 million, although still far short of restoring the millions of dollars in total funding cuts since 2008.

CUNY senior colleges will receive an overall increase of $12 million. The budget restores $2.5 million to the nationally acclaimed Accelerated Study in Associate Program. Cuomo had zeroed out the program. The Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK) program received $23.3 million, almost $5 million more than the governor proposed. SEEK provides finanicial aid to disadvantaged students.

The Legislature restored the $1.3 million the governor had cut from the Educational Opportunity Program, and added an additional $4.4 million to this successful academic support program for low-income, high-needs students.

The Educational Opportunity Centers, which work with students who want career training but not a traditional college experience, received a $4 million increase.

The budget also includes a provision that requires SUNY community colleges to consult with BOCES to identify new or existing programs that would allow a student to pursue an associate of occupational studies (AOS) degree from a community college upon high school graduation. The Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) received a $43.3 million increase. The budget does not include a proposed private equity pilot program that could have set the stage for privatization of SUNY teaching hospitals.

The governor's punitive plan to suspend and deregister education programs whose students do not achieve a 50 percent pass rate on a series of new certification exams was modified. The plan applies only to SUNY's graduate schools of education and was amended to reduce its harshness.

A proposal for consolidating some of the administrative work of SUNY and CUNY - two completely separate systems with different needs and different funding streams - never made it into the final budget.

Unfinished business

The NY DREAM Act, which would allow undocumented college students who came into the country as minors to qualify for state financial aid, has yet to make it to the governor's desk.

Changes to include collective bargaining and other inflationary costs to the state's definition of "maintenance of effort" were deferred to the end of the session. The governor's proposal for mandatory "experiential learning"- internships or other hands-on experiences for college students - will be developed by the SUNY and CUNY boards of trustees. With more than a year before the plans are due, UUP and PSC will have an opportunity to say how they should be developed and what work condition protections need to be in place for members.

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