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January 22, 2015

New York no 'state of opportunity' for SUNY students

Gov. Andrew Cuomo called New York a “state of opportunity” in his State of the State address, but proposed funding cuts and programs in his 2015-16 Executive Budget serve to restrict and eliminate opportunities for SUNY students, United University Professions President Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D., said today.

“We are dismayed that in an address that refers to New York as a state of opportunity, the governor ended up slamming that door in the face of students in many ways,” said Kowal. “He cut funding to true opportunity programs such as SUNY’s successful Educational Opportunity Program and embraced a funding process plan which would undermine SUNY’s academic mission—without creating the job opportunities he prizes.”

Kowal said Cuomo’s performance-based funding proposal for SUNY—linked to SUNY’s newly approved “SUNY Excels” plan—will pit campuses against each other for incentive funding and could prompt them to bypass low-income, high-needs and nontraditional students for students identified by campuses as having a better chance of graduating in four years to meet funding goals.

“This is a flawed idea and where it has been tried it has failed to achieve any real improvement in student success,” he said. “It’s a fad that states fall back on when they avoid making true investments in public higher education to benefit students.”

In December, UUP announced a series of initiatives for SUNY’s long-term success, which included a proposal to incentivize campuses that truly create opportunities for SUNY students and graduates. Also part of the plan: a student loan refinancing proposal and the formation of a SUNY endowment to ensure SUNY’s academic quality for years to come.

The governor’s Executive Budget includes draconian cuts for SUNY’s successful opportunities programs; more than $2 million have been stripped away from the Educational Opportunity Program, which provides academic support and financial aid to help low-income students to get into college, and succeed once they are there.

“This will have a detrimental impact on diversity,” Kowal said.

Kowal said that Cuomo’s “New York State Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program” is encouraging, but doesn’t go far enough to address the state’s student loan debt crisis. It doesn’t help the more than 2.8 million New Yorkers carrying $73 billion in student debt, and it may actually encourage more students to take out loans. Students may be forced into lower-paying jobs under the program’s $50,000 yearly salary threshold to qualify.

UUP’s proposed “SUNY Student Loan Refinancing program” would be open to all SUNY graduates with state or federal student loans incurred as of Jan. 1, 2008. They must earn an associate or bachelor’s degree from a state-operated SUNY school and wait a year after graduating to take part in the program.

“Our plan is a long-term answer to the state’s student debt problem,” Kowal said.

Kowal said the governor’s statements about teacher preparatory programs foreshadow a “full-scale assault” on teacher prep programs in the SUNY schools of education. Those programs have been set up to fail through the state Education Department’s botched implementation of new state teacher certification requirements, which have serious content and administrative problems.

UUP’s president also defended SUNY’s state-operated teaching hospitals and criticized the governor for slashing funding to the hospitals’ subsidy in his Executive Budget by more than 20 percent. Such cuts would threaten the vital services these hospitals provide to hundreds of thousands of patients statewide, many of whom with little or no insurance coverage. The hospitals accept all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

“Once again, the governor is indicating his abandonment of the public good by cutting the subsidy to these life-saving hospitals,” said Kowal.

Click here for more information about UUP’s multi-part action plan.

UUP is the nation's largest higher education union, with more than 37,000 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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