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CONTACT: Don Feldstein or
Mike Lisi (518) 640-6600
Feldstein’s cell number is (518) 461-0275

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

February 26, 2014

Students & Faculty to Legislators: Invest more in CUNY and SUNY; pass the DREAM Act & reform financial aid; and start a Higher Ed Endowment


ALBANY
– Hundreds of students, faculty and college staff traveled to Albany today from every corner of the state to demand a better state budget for CUNY and SUNY and a long-term strategy for investing in public higher education. CUNY and SUNY have lost nearly $2 billion in State funding in recent years; without a dramatic increase in funding, the two public university systems will be unable to ensure broad access to quality, affordable higher education.

Outraged by tuition hikes, full-time faculty shortages, inadequate financial aid and an Executive Budget that does nothing to rebuild their universities after years of underfunding, students and faculty, some traveling from before dawn, came to Albany to urge the Legislature to do better. Cynthia Roldan rode with a busload of students from New York City. She is a Baruch College student and vice chair for legislative affairs for the CUNY-wide student government, CUNY USS.

“Higher education is the key to success—and the key to solving the problems of poverty, economic inequality and unemployment that persist in many of our communities,” said Roldan. “When the promise of an accessible and affordable college education becomes a reality for all New Yorkers, we will lift our state socially and economically, and this is what students and faculty are rallying for.”

The governor’s Executive Budget fails to provide fully for normal cost increases for energy, rent, technology and other costs of operation. It relies on revenue from tuition hikes to fill the hole. It makes no improvements to financial aid and leaves community colleges dramatically under resourced.

“It’s not fair to our students—many of whose families sacrifice to find the extra money—to use their increased tuition to cover mandatory costs. When tuition hikes are used to fill the gap left in the Executive Budget, that’s a cut—and a broken promise,” said Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY and a CUNY professor of English. “Students, faculty and legislators were told that the annual tuition hikes at CUNY and SUNY would go to improve educational services. We are here to demand that the promise be kept.”

“Students from across the state are calling on our elected officials to prioritize higher education in this year's budget,” said Aileen Sheil, Queens College student and chair of NYPIRG's Board of Directors. “It's time to make college more affordable for all New Yorkers by reforming and expanding the state's Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and investing in our universities so they are relying less on tuition,” said Sheil.

“We are here today to remind policymakers of the valuable role the state’s community colleges play in New York’s economy,” said NYSUT Executive Vice President Andrew Pallotta. “Additionally, community colleges offer access to an affordable, quality higher education to students who otherwise may not have an opportunity to pursue a college degree.”

CUNY and SUNY have a profound shortage of full-time faculty. As a result, the colleges rely increasingly on under-paid part-timers, who may not have the time they wish to give to students. Even as the university systems have hired new faculty, they haven’t been able to make up for years of under-investment and rising enrollments. The continued faculty shortage has led to overcrowded classes at many campuses, and left some students struggling to get the courses they need to graduate.

Rebuilding the ranks of full-time faculty at CUNY and SUNY after years of disinvestment will require big investments and big thinking—two things lacking in the governor’s budget plan for higher education. NYSUT’s Public Higher Education Quality Initiative recommends a long-term strategy that goes beyond a budget-by-budget approach to reinvestment—an endowment dedicated to funding new full-time faculty and staff lines.

“Creation of an endowment to add more full-time faculty and professional staff will allow SUNY, CUNY and our community colleges to begin restoring academic programs that have been lost to years of budget cuts,” said NYSUT President Richard C. Iannuzzi. “More full-time positions will ensure the quality courses, services and mentoring New York’s college students deserve.”

Greater direct state investment in public higher education and an endowment would lead to dramatic improvements at SUNY, according to United University Professions President Frederick Kowal.

“The time has come to end a pattern of disinvestment in public higher education. It is time to reinvest in our public colleges and universities to protect their quality and students’ access to higher education. UUP stands committed to our students. We urge our state lawmakers to confirm their commitment to the future of our students by investing more in SUNY and CUNY,” said Kowal.

Restoring the state hospital subsidy to its $128 million level is another must-have investment, according to Kowal and the coalition. Students and faculty joined in the call for the State to help SUNY hospitals survive and protect their medical and educational missions.

The student and faculty organizations at the lobby day are part of a broader financial aid effort, the Coalition to Reform the NY Tuition Assistance Program. Together, they are advocating for passage of the NYS DREAM Act, and TAP reforms that would restore past funds cut from TAP, cover students who are excluded from the program, and align TAP with the needs of today’s students. The governor recently indicated support for the NY DREAM Act, and the State Assembly passed it yesterday.

"Every undocumented student fears a date. The date you have to drop out of classes because you can't afford tuition,” said Luis Saavedra, a Lehman College student whose undocumented status prevents him from receiving financial aid. “The NY DREAM Act would alleviate that fear by providing access to the Tuition Assistance Program. We thank the governor and the Assembly for their support and call on the Senate to pass the NY DREAM Act this session."

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UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 42,000 academic and professional faculty and retirees. UUP members work at 29 New York state-operated campuses, including SUNY’s public teaching hospitals and health science centers in Brooklyn, Long Island and Syracuse. It is an affiliate of NYSUT, the American Federation of Teachers, the National Education Association, and the AFL-CIO.

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