Friday, May 22, 2009

A Message from Council Member Letitia James

The following is a letter Council Member James sent to CUNY affiliates who contacted her concerning the CUNY budget.

Dear New York City Resident:

Each year, the City University of New York (CUNY) enrolls more than 450,000 students City-wide within eleven senior colleges, six community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College, the Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education- equaling almost half of all college or university students in the City of New York.

In the past, CUNY has had to make difficult financial and academic decisions in order to continue to provide higher educational opportunities. Prior to the 1970’s, a CUNY education was free to New York City students, a system referred to as ‘open admissions’. Under open admissions, Black and Latino attendance rates grew substantially. Facing a fiscal crisis, the CUNY system began imposing tuition fees on students. By the 2000’s, to meet the still-evolving academic standards of today’s working world, CUNY raised admission standards following reports that students in the four-year colleges were not meeting competitive standards. Throughout these changes, the University has remained true to its legacy of providing low and mid-income individuals with quality educational opportunities.

Today, CUNY enrollment is at its highest level since 1975, a 4.8% increase over 2008. The Macaulay Honors College, which graduated its first class in 2005, is currently serving 1,300 high-achieving students. Students admitted to the program had an average SAT score of 1400. A Macaulay student was one of the 32 Americans awarded a 2009 Rhodes Scholarship (CUNY’s third Rhodes student in five years). Additionally, many of CUNY’s senior colleges are recognized as some of the most rigorous in the country.

However, with the current fiscal crisis now affecting our national and local governments, the University is facing budget cuts that could potentially weaken its structure and operations as well as hinder the education of students who attend it. CUNY has sustained $82 million in reductions in City and State support in the current year alone. According to a statement issued by the Office of the Chancellor, “The State Executive Budget recommends $1.9 billion for CUNY’s senior colleges, reflecting a decrease of state support of almost $65 million, offset by more than $115 million from additional tuition and fee revenue. This revenue is based on tuition rate increases of 15 percent, or $300 per semester, for resident full-time undergraduate students and 20 percent for graduate students…The Executive Budget proposes a $20-million University-wide reduction to [our] senior colleges in non-core activities and a reduction on community-college base aid per full-time equivalent (FTE) by $270 for the current year that would continue into FY2009-2010. For CUNY, this equates to about $4 million in the current year and $18 million in 2009-10.”

Fiscal year 2009-2010 represents year four of CUNY’s innovative multi-year financing approach- called the CUNY Compact. This strategy offers an economically efficient way to finance CUNY by delineating shared responsibility among partners and creating opportunities to leverage funds. To integrate Governor Paterson’s proposed budget policies, CUNY Compact has been adapted for the fiscal year. CUNY is requesting the implementation of a State and City Philanthropy Matching Program in which three dollars in public funds are provided for every dollar the University raises through philanthropic sources.

The effects of such a program would help insure that no CUNY student would be denied the ability to continue their studies as a result of the proposed tuition increase, and establish a new student financial assistance program. The FY2010 College Investment Program totals $90.6M and includes:
• $38.0M for academic and faculty support;
• $26.0M for improved student services;
• $5.3M for upgrading infrastructure.
Capital priorities, which include critical maintenance of properties and the Decade of Science initiative (which focuses on expanding research opportunities in the science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields), incorporate green standards of development and would create local job opportunities.

In the interest of promoting the continued success of CUNY, ideally, the New York City Council should take a stand to reject the City cuts that force CUNY to adopt a budget model that includes any tuition increases, including the $36.3M in cuts to CUNY's operating budget, and $4.3M in reductions in City Council-sponsored programs for CUNY students. However, if we cannot do that, it is imperative that we support CUNY’s Compact budget request plan, which includes a Philanthropic Matching Program that limits those tuition increases and allows CUNY to restore their programs.

I believe that together we can ensure low and mid-income individuals continue to receive quality education at CUNY institutions. I join you in requesting CUNY's budgetary needs be met.

Letitia James
Member of the City Council

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