Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/951 Fri, 26 Apr 2019 00:09:46 +0000 en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) A New Deal for CUNY This State Budget: Close the TAP Gap and Freeze Tuition http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8400-a-new-deal-for-cuny-in-this-state-budget-close-the-tap-gap-and-freeze-tuition http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8400-a-new-deal-for-cuny-in-this-state-budget-close-the-tap-gap-and-freeze-tuition first lady chi

(photo: Edwin J. Torres/Mayoral Photography Office)


While the national admissions bribery scandal rocks the country, another, less sensational, legal -- but still incredibly important -- higher education crisis is unfolding before our eyes in New York. The City University of New York (CUNY), where the majority of the student body comes from underserved communities of color, is in the midst of a financial crisis, putting public higher education at risk for thousands of New Yorkers who want and deserve opportunity.

In 2017 the New York Times reported that CUNY propels “almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all eight Ivy League campuses, plus Duke, M.I.T., Stanford and Chicago, combined.” Despite its success in doing so, CUNY deals with consistent flat funding and underfunding from state government in Albany, and “predictable” and “rational” tuition hikes have increasingly placed the burden of keeping the University afloat on the backs of students. Tuition hikes are only a band-aid fix to an underlying problem of state divestment in public higher education.

To solve this crisis, the state must prioritize and increase funding towards higher education, starting with the new state budget that is due by Monday, April 1.

CUNY accepts all and recognizes the potential of all, which makes it the right investment. Investing in CUNY means ensuring all New Yorkers, regardless of income or status, can pursue an excellent and affordable education.

My story is the story of many CUNY students. I attended Queensborough Community College with the financial and academic support provided by CUNY’s ASAP program. The opportunity program, like SEEK and ACE, recognizes that access to resources like Metrocards, textbook vouchers, and dedicated advisors can make a world of difference to financially-struggling students. As a new immigrant to the United States, these resources helped provide stability for me and my family.

Mid-way through my college career, we lost my father, the family breadwinner, to cancer. My family relocated to Texas; I was able to stay in New York and continue my education at City College thanks to merit-based scholarships I won given my performance in community college as a straight-A student, propelled by the resources ASAP provided. However, these very same resources that helped me succeed in college are the frequent targets of budget cuts, and others are severely underfunded. For example, at City College, I was only allowed six sessions with a mental health counselor because of budgetary limitations, despite needing more help with navigating the sudden changes in my life.

At the Board of Trustees Public Hearing in January on the fiscal year 2020 budget request, student leaders pointed out that the messaging in Albany around CUNY is inconsistent. How can we herald programs to make college more affordable or provide food pantries, but still choose to burden these same students with a tuition hike of $200 each year, which is more than “modest” for CUNY families?

Predictability of a tuition hike doesn’t change its unaffordability. Another tuition hike also goes against the vision of Governor Cuomo and the tuition-free promise he made to New Yorkers two years ago with the Excelsior Scholarship, which only helps a little over 2 percent of CUNY students. Furthermore, an increase in tuition -- which could and should be rolled back by state lawmakers -- will further widen “the TAP Gap,” the growing difference between the state’s tuition assistance program funding for students and actual tuition costs. As of now the maximum amount of TAP that can be awarded to a student each year is $5,165, while the annual cost of attendance at a four-year college is $6,730, leaving a yearly gap of $1,565 that colleges need to fund by slashing existing programs and services.

The looming financial crisis faced by many of CUNY’s close to 500,000 students is an equity issue, one that disproportionately affects colleges where students of color and those from low-income families are the majority population. For a university once called the “free academy” and the “poor man’s Harvard,” this is disheartening.

Many state legislators were beneficiaries of CUNY’s opportunity programs and support services -- some even went to CUNY for free -- and should recognize the value of investing in higher education. Shifting the burden of funding from the public to students is a betrayal of New York’s commitment to college affordability and we in the CUNY Student Senate call on leadership to take the necessary measures to end disinvestment in public higher education and protect that commitment instead.

The Legislature and Governor Cuomo must provide $32 million to reinstate a tuition freeze across all public colleges like they did in 2016, provide the $74 million needed to fill the TAP Gap, and commit funds to expand opportunity programs and support services, not just simply restoring proposed cuts.

On Sunday, over 100 students marched from City Hall, across Brooklyn Bridge, to Brooklyn Borough Hall, with Borough Presidents Gale Brewer and Eric Adams, Public Advocate Jumaane Williams, and State Senator Robert Jackson joining in solidarity, for a new deal for CUNY. The needs of CUNY students are not mutually exclusive to the needs of New Yorkers, and rather than short-changing higher education, Albany leaders should support the university, whose mission is synonymous with the state’s mission of providing all New York families a pathway to a better life.

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Haris Khan is the chairperson for the CUNY University Student Senate (USS) and the only student member of the CUNY Board of Trustees. He also sits on the NYS Higher Education Services Corporation Board of Trustees and studies Politics, Diplomacy, and Law in the CUNY BA program at The City College of New York. On Twitter @hariskhan97.

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A New Deal for CUNY This State Budget: Close the TAP Gap and Freeze Tuition Thu, 28 Mar 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Council Examines CUNY Budget, City Funding for Community Colleges http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8340-council-examines-cuny-budget-city-funding-for-community-colleges http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8340-council-examines-cuny-budget-city-funding-for-community-colleges cm i barron meeting

Council Member Inez Barron (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


City Council members on Thursday questioned administrators for the City University of New York as part of a preliminary budget hearing regarding the public university system, which is funded through a variety of sources including city, state, and federal dollars, as well as tuition.

The hearing was helmed by Higher Education Committee Chair Inez Barron, who represents parts of Brooklyn, is a Hunter College graduate and former public school teacher, and has long argued that CUNY should be tuition-free for all students.

The hearing touched on various issues that have been associated with CUNY for years, such as the increased use of adjunct professors in the system, potential for new hiring, and the role CUNY plays as a vehicle for upward mobility.

The total CUNY budget request for this coming fiscal year, from all sources, is $3.9 billion.

Within the CUNY system, the main recipients of city dollars are community colleges; senior colleges are mostly funded by the state. Under the “predictable” tuition increase plan, in place since 2011, tuition at CUNY’s community colleges has increased by nearly 50 percent, from $3,600 to $4,800 annually. Unlike the senior colleges, however, the community colleges have now had three straight years of tuition freezes.

“In my opinion, I’m opposed to annual tuition increases,” Barron said. “We’re glad that community college has not had to bear that brunt. And my objective is to make CUNY tuition-free. That’s my objective.”

At Thursday’s hearing, CUNY administrators said that if a requested increase in state funding of $250 per student “full time equivalent” is not provided, the community colleges may have to unfreeze tuition rates.

“This increase in state funding, along with continued city support, would adequately support community college operations and enable the university to freeze community college tuition rates for a fourth straight year,” said Matthew Sapienza, CUNY’s senior vice chancellor and chief financial officer.

Mayor de Blasio’s preliminary budget, released in February, calls for $1.181 billion for CUNY in fiscal year 2020, which begins July 1 of this year. This is a decrease from the $1.196 billion in the adopted budget for the current fiscal year, and includes a $14 million cut for community colleges specifically, from $1.143 billion to $1.129 billion.

For community colleges, labor costs will grow by $16 million, from $792.2 million to $808.6 million, due to collective bargaining agreements, while the “other than personal services” allocation shrinks from $350.9 million to $320.1 million, mainly from a $34 million cut to the budget for “supplies and materials,” according to a City Council report.

The mayor’s preliminary budget also includes appropriations for senior colleges ($35 million) and for the public K-12 schools on Hunter College’s campus ($18.2 million). Both of these are essentially flat from the current budget. The rest of CUNY’s budget comes from the state, the federal government, student tuition, scholarships, and grants.

The CUNY administrators present highlighted several key areas they hoped the Council would help fund, including expansion of the successful Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) initiative, efforts to address student food insecurity, and expansion of CUNY’s childcare program, which is not present at every school.

The administrators also called for the Council to help significantly increase funding for CUNY’s associate programs, funding for which has remained flat for over 20 years, by matching the funding to inflation. That would double the programs’ funding, from $32.3 million to $65.1 million.

Over the next four years, CUNY wants to hire 800 new full-time faculty, an attempted departure from the adjunctification trend in at its schools and across higher education. CUNY’s labor force now counts 7,600 full-time instructors and 13,000 adjuncts, who make as little as $3,200 per course, do not have job security, and often have to teach multiple classes per semester at different schools just to make a meager living.

The Professional Staff Congress, a union that represents full-time and part-time CUNY instructors, is aiming to both lessen the university’s reliance on adjuncts and double adjunct pay per course.

“If you take the $3,200 minimum pay per course, and divide that by the number of hours it takes to actually teach a course, grading, preparing, meeting with students, responding to their emails, counseling, the actual pay works out to be just about minimum wage or lower,” said Barbara Bowen, the president of PSC. “So for people with PhDs, master’s degrees, teaching the next generation of college students, responsible for conveying to them the message that if you finish your college degree, a good future awaits you, that very person who has a college degree and a couple of advanced degrees is making less than minimum wage. There is something very wrong about that.”

Among those who attended and asked questions other than Barron were Council Members Ydanis Rodriguez, Robert Holden, and Ben Kallos.

On the capital front, major renovations at several colleges, many of which consist of old and somewhat neglected buildings, are included in the mayor’s preliminary capital plan for fiscal years 2019-2023, including $5.9 million in city funding for a major renovation at Hostos Community College in the Bronx. Not included, but requested, is $50 million for a permanent home for Guttman Community College in Manhattan, CUNY’s newest institution.

The Council’s preliminary budget hearings will continue for the rest of March, analyzing the mayor’s preliminary budget proposal. The Council will then release its formal budget response and then the mayor will release his executive budget proposal, triggering additional Council hearings.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Council Examines CUNY Budget, City Funding for Community Colleges Fri, 08 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
After Amazon: Establishing Our Local Pipeline for Future Opportunities http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8301-after-amazon-establishing-our-local-pipeline-for-future-opportunities http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8301-after-amazon-establishing-our-local-pipeline-for-future-opportunities general lagcc 600

(photo: LaGuardia Community College, CUNY)


With Amazon’s pronouncement to put the brakes on its plan to bring part of its new headquarters to Long Island City, it’s time to make lemonade out of the many lemons left in the wake.

Amazon’s decision to locate here centered on our city’s ability to get the company the talent it needs to grow. It’s what every company, large and small, needs to thrive.

When Amazon first announced it was coming, one of the first questions raised was: who will benefit? Would the 25,000 jobs help our local community, including the residents of Queensbridge Houses, the nation’s largest public housing complex, and LaGuardia Community College, where more than 70% of students come from households with incomes of less than $30,000? What kinds of jobs would be open to someone with just a high school diploma, an associate’s, a bachelor’s? Would it be New Yorkers who benefitted, or people recruited from elsewhere in the country and the world?

In my engagement with City, State, and Amazon representatives, it became clear to me that New York (and conceivably many localities) needs a stronger, integrated system that links private and public spheres to educate future employees. Amazon’s proposed campus in Long Island City highlighted the need for that more robust, sustained development of talent pipelines in the fundamental field of tech, especially for people in low-income communities.

The first step is more employers willing to establish long-term partnerships with local colleges and universities so there’s clear understanding of the technical, intellectual, and practical skills needed for job-openings. Without strong employer partnerships, we can’t be certain that our students will be job-ready upon graduation.

We need more companies, especially tech companies, willing to invest in developing local talent by providing paid internships and mentorship opportunities for nontraditional and traditional students alike. We need more collaborations to create job-specific training programs, like one we have with Google to provide training in IT support.

Without far-reaching programs that connect students who are older, poor, or speak English less than well, tech employers will continue relying on the same private and elite-college networks for hiring.

Fledgling progress was being made with Amazon to create pathways to jobs. At the end of January, Amazon announced a collaboration with LaGuardia Community College, CUNY, and SUNY to create a program to train people (with at least a high school diploma) for jobs in cloud computing.

But more than programs, public officials, employers, and educators must convene and nurture the building of an ecosystem that connects the many assets a community can use to establish a collaborative approach. If a community can encircle a potential employee with support and education, and companies can create bona fide paths to employment, there is no limit to the amount of social mobility and community vibrancy that can be created.

LaGuardia Community College knows how well employer-education partnerships can work when it all comes together. Queens resident Matt O’Connor was working full-time packing boxes at a nearby delivery service when he came to LaGuardia to channel his passion for coding. He was offered internship opportunities that grounded his classroom work. Matt first interned at the tech accelerator Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, where he worked with small tech start-ups. His next paid software development internship was at Place Pixel, a company that creates next-generation mapping experiences. It went so well that he was offered a full-time job with an equity share in the company. Matt said it felt miraculous when he was able to quit the package delivery company. Today, he’s a full-time software engineer at the company SevenFifty.

But with better and more targeted resources, we can do even more. We need elected officials to step up and increase the investment in our public colleges: to give us the resources to re-imagine what and how we teach. We need to be able to hire and support full-time faculty who can effectively teach complex material, particularly to a diverse student body. We need the funding to support the collaboration across organizational silos. It’s not just the funding for expanding holistic support like child care, and philanthropy to support transportation, emergency funds, and an on-campus food pantry. It’s also dedicated funding to link the path from the housing projects to training, and from training to college.

Over the coming weeks and months, there will be much analysis of what went right or wrong with the Amazon deal. No matter who declares victory, what Long Island City is left with does little for the low-income and aspiring New Yorkers who remain on the sidelines. Let’s not lose a moment in getting our talent prepared for whatever happens next, whether it’s the next Amazon wanting to locate here or the start-up just beginning to get launched.

Whether you are cheering or bemoaning the crumbling of the agreement, we can all agree those who’ve been historically locked out of job opportunities in the fastest growing industries need more pathways to these good, steady jobs that enable them to provide for themselves and their families.

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Gail O. Mellow is President of LaGuardia Community College. On Twitter @LaGuardiaCC.

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After Amazon: Establishing Our Local Pipeline for Future Opportunities Thu, 21 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Public Higher Education for New Yorkers Is Under Serious Threat http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8276-public-higher-education-for-new-yorkers-is-under-serious-threat http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8276-public-higher-education-for-new-yorkers-is-under-serious-threat 2017 medgar evers college

(photo: CUNY Office of Communications)


New Yorkers should be proud that the City University of New York leads the nation in offering low-income students the opportunity to enter the middle class. CUNY is a powerful engine of social mobility.  

But that engine is at risk of breaking down unless our elected officials change course. Years of systemic underinvestment in educational opportunities for students of color – starting well before they reach university - means that students are increasingly unprepared for the global economy at the same time that their professors are stretched incredibly thin trying to make ends meet.

My wife and I are both adjuncts – like the majority of professors who are teaching CUNY students - at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. We each make about $3,500 a course, the average wage for adjuncts at CUNY. When you factor in time for grading, student conferences, and planning, this compensation comes to not much more than minimum wage.

We now have an 8-month old daughter and despite reducing our household expenses to the bare necessities and taking on side gigs (like driving for Uber), our total debt just keeps growing. We can’t afford childcare that is available at the college we teach at and so we are presently applying for subsidized childcare elsewhere. I am sharing these intimate details because these are the kinds of circumstances CUNY adjuncts are grappling with all around this expensive city.

My wife and I – and all the other adjuncts we know – love teaching. We want to be there for our John Jay students, the next generation of police officers, emergency personnel, and legal professionals who will go on to provide public safety, justice, and aid for our beloved City.

I routinely meet adjunct professors who are juggling four, five, and six courses not simply because they love teaching, but because they are trying to combine the wages of a number of low-paid courses in order to pay the rent. But others I speak to have given up and are leaving the college teaching profession at the first better-paid alternative.

Other universities manage to pay their professors – both full-time and adjunct – a decent wage. But not CUNY.

Adjuncts at the University of Connecticut start at $4,700 per course. At Rutgers in New Jersey the starting pay for an adjunct is $5,200, while at Penn State it is $6,100. Nearby private colleges pay adjuncts even more. At Fordham, they start at $7,000. At Barnard they will soon earn $10,000 per course.

Our full-time CUNY colleagues are underpaid as well, with average salaries well below peer institutions like Pace, the University of Connecticut and Rutgers.

All of this means that it’s harder to attract good teachers – right as CUNY is desperately trying to improve the faculty diversity at the University. And it means that teachers have less time to spend on their students – as they’re pushed to take on side jobs to make ends meet.

Per-student state support for CUNY’s senior colleges has decreased 18% over the last 10 years when you adjust  for inflation. In that time, tuition has skyrocketed.

It would not take billions to make real change: $350 million, a drop in the bucket compared to the billions in subsidies our elected officials are prepared to offer Amazon, would ensure that CUNY remains accessible while continuing to reduce inequality and fight poverty.  

CUNY and its graduates have given so much to New York City. But if politicians continue to starve public higher education and the people who make it work, the CUNY economic miracle will not be there for future generations.

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Sami Disu is an adjunct professor at CUNY’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

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Public Higher Education for New Yorkers Is Under Serious Threat Tue, 12 Feb 2019 05:00:00 +0000
To Help More Students Succeed in College, Reform Remedial Education http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8171-to-help-more-students-succeed-in-college-reform-remedial-education http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8171-to-help-more-students-succeed-in-college-reform-remedial-education class2018 laguardia comm

(photo via LaGuardia Community College)


New York’s community college students face long odds of graduating. Only 25 percent of community college students statewide—and just 22 percent in New York City—earn an associate’s degree in three years, an enormous barrier to economic opportunity in a state where a college credential is becoming the floor to career success. There are multiple reasons why so many New Yorkers aren’t making it through college, but one major driver is clear: far too many students entering community colleges in New York are being pushed into remedial education programs.

Recognizing that developmental education is unintentionally derailing students from the path to a degree, both CUNY and SUNY are taking important steps to reform this system from the ground up. Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature should support these essential efforts by setting broad goals for reducing the number of students in remedial programs and funding innovative alternatives at community colleges statewide.

Remedial education has long been viewed as a necessity, since large numbers of students enter the state’s public colleges academically underprepared. At New York’s community colleges, which take all applicants and serve thousands of low-income and first-generation college students each year, most students enter struggling with at least one core subject like math or reading, and the majority are placed into remedial education.

But researchers now know that traditional remedial programs aren’t working. Students entering these programs are far more likely to drop out by the end of their first year, and the vast majority will fail to graduate with a degree—even as studies show that many students could have succeeded by staying out of developmental education entirely.

In recent years, roughly three-quarters of CUNY community college students placed into at least one remedial math, writing, or reading course. Nearly 90 percent of these students will not earn an on-time degree, and six in ten remedial math students will have dropped out within two years. Whatever initial excitement spurred these students into college quickly fades, as some of their peers make progress toward a degree while they remain stuck in classes that feel like high school never ended—all while burning through financial aid.

A better system is possible, and it starts with placing fewer students there in the first place.

In fact, evidence shows that high-stakes placement tests are weak predictors of a student’s potential, and many students who end up in remedial education can succeed in credit-bearing courses. CUNY and SUNY are developing smarter placement algorithms that analyze more than just test scores, and this data-backed reform should expand.

Of course, some underprepared students will require extra support to succeed in college. These students need access to programs that can build academic skills while maintaining momentum toward a degree.

That’s where innovative new approaches can make a difference. Study after study has shown that reimagined alternatives to remedial education programs are working for underprepared students by improving learning outcomes, boosting college completion, and speeding the path to a credential.

For instance, CUNY’s Start program has shown tremendous early results by providing an intensive, single-semester course combined with significant academic and non-academic support—all without using up financial aid. In addition, CUNY is expanding the highly-promising corequisite model, which places students in credit-bearing math and English courses bolstered by weekly support sessions. This approach is proving effective, helping students pass gateway math and English courses at higher rates and even improving college completion. Likewise, SUNY’s Math Pathways program is taking a similar approach to rethink math remediation for underprepared community college students.

As evidence mounts that these new strategies are working, it’s time for New York policymakers to give remedial reform a major boost. First, the State Legislature should pass a law setting broad goals for improving support systems for underprepared students, significantly decreasing the remedial population, and aligning SUNY’s and CUNY’s approaches with best practices nationwide, while leaving the specifics up to education leaders. Policymakers should then fuel progress toward these goals by implementing a new time-limited challenge grant for community colleges, aimed at expanding remedial education reforms quickly and efficiently to campuses statewide.

Traditional remedial education has been just another stumbling block on the road to a college credential. By investing in comprehensive remedial education reform, New York State can lift up underprepared students and put thousands more on track to a brighter economic future.

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Eli Dvorkin is editorial and policy director of the Center for an Urban Future, a New York–based think tank focused on expanding economic opportunity. On Twitter @WetWax & @nycfuture.

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To Help More Students Succeed in College, Reform Remedial Education Thu, 03 Jan 2019 05:00:00 +0000
The Ups and Downs of Excelsior Scholarship’s Freshman Year and What Comes Next http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8025-the-ups-and-downs-of-excelsior-scholarship-s-freshman-year-and-what-comes-next http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/8025-the-ups-and-downs-of-excelsior-scholarship-s-freshman-year-and-what-comes-next cuomo excelsior

Gov. Cuomo celebrates Excelsior (photo via the Governor's Office)


The Excelsior Scholarship is a little over a year old, which makes it a good time to take stock. In October 2017 as the program launched, Governor Andrew Cuomo proclaimed, “Our first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarship is designed so more New Yorkers go to college tuition-free and receive the education they deserve to reach their full potential." Now that the program is in its third semester, we can explore the program’s freshman year experience to assess its impact, successes, and struggles. Who has benefited the most? Who hasn’t? And what elements need fixing?     

The Inaugural Class
In Fall 2017, 20,086 students were awarded Excelsior scholarships and attended SUNY and CUNY colleges tuition-free.

Excelsior is a “last dollar” program, which means that awards are made only after accounting for other grant aid received, namely federal Pell grants and grants from the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

Low-income SUNY and CUNY students typically receive enough aid from Pell and TAP to cover all or most of their tuition costs, so Excelsior funds have primarily gone to middle-class students, as designed by Gov. Cuomo. For the 2017-2018 academic year, the maximum family income threshold was $100,000, which increased to $110,000 for 2018-2019, and will rise to $125,000 for 2019-2020.

The creation of the Excelsior program brought much-needed relief to students and families caught in the middle-class college affordability squeeze, neither eligible for much financial aid nor easily able to pay the rising tuition and fee amounts at CUNY and SUNY.

Ghennah Forde, a junior at Brooklyn College, was one of Excelsior’s inaugural beneficiaries. During her freshman year, Ghennah and her parents, who identify as middle-class, struggled to pay Ghennah’s college expenses. Her mom’s salary from working in a hospital’s pathology lab and her father’s from working in a rehabilitation facility’s kitchen were too high for Ghennah to quality for Pell aid. After accounting for a TAP award of $500 per year, Ghennah had a tuition balance of approximately $6,000. “Financial aid was not on my side,” she says. When the Excelsior Scholarship award came through, she says, it was “such a blessing.”

Another Excelsior beneficiary, Ryan Walsh, received small amounts of Pell and TAP during his first two years as a commuter student at the State University of New York at Albany. When he began his freshman year, he had $16,000 in family savings for college-related expenses, but that money was mostly gone by the end of his sophomore year.  Looking ahead to his junior year, Ryan saw looming a big tuition bill and car insurance and mobile phone charges. “Money was stressing me out a lot,” he says.

When Ryan’s dad heard about Cuomo’s proposal for the Excelsior Scholarship, it was a lifeline and a much-needed financial bailout. “Right when I ran out of money,” Ryan says, “the Excelsior Scholarship was announced.” Once Ryan got confirmation that Excelsior would cover his junior year tuition, he says, “I was so happy.” Receiving Excelsior eased his financial stresses. Now instead of panicking about money, Ryan worries about his upcoming graduation and breaking into the entertainment journalism industry.  

Low-income students have gained little financially from Excelsior, yet the governor and others have made the argument that low-income students benefit from the program’s simple message that anyone, regardless of family income, can go to college for free. Excelsior may be motivating more students, including low-income students, to prepare for and enroll in college, though it’s impossible to know. For Fall 2018, CUNY’s freshman enrollment increased to 39,938 students from 38,162 in Fall 2017, a gain of 4.0%. CUNY officials attribute the increase to two factors, including Excelsior and also an initiative waiving CUNY’s $65 freshman application fee for public school students. The increase may be the result of these and/or any number of factors, including that some students may now be choosing CUNY who otherwise would have chosen private institutions. SUNY has not yet released Fall 2018 freshman enrollment numbers.  

CUNY vs. SUNY
The 20,086 students who received Excelsior in Fall 2017 are a sizable group, yet they only represent 3.2% of the state’s total population of SUNY and CUNY students, which exceeds 630,000. Excelsior is barely a presence on some campuses. In Fall 2017, just 34 students received the grant at the 7,200-student CUNY Hostos Community College. Indeed, according to a report released in August 2018 by the Center for an Urban Future (CUF), a New York City-based policy think tank, only 0.8% of CUNY community college students received Excelsior.  

The CUF report indicates that students who attend SUNY bachelor’s-granting institutions benefit at much higher rates. At these institutions, approximately 6.8% of all undergraduates received Excelsior in Fall 2017. At SUNY Albany, where Ryan attends, more than 8% of the in-state resident students received Excelsior.

The uneven distribution of Excelsior funds does not sit well with CUNY advocates. State Senator Liz Krueger, a Manhattan Democrat, says, “From the very beginning, I suspected that Excelsior wouldn’t prove as valuable for your average CUNY student as for SUNY full-time students.” At an August rally protesting Excelsior’s limitations, New York City Council Member and CUNY Hunter College alumnae Inez Barron declared, “Governor Cuomo is playing a shell game.”  

The Heavy Credit Accumulation Requirement
Excelsior includes a controversial provision: students must earn 30 credits each year to receive and maintain the scholarship. This stipulation has effectively disqualified part-time students and students who are not on track to graduate within two years from associate degree programs and within four years from bachelor’s degrees programs. In a statement provided to Politico, Don Kaplan, a spokesperson for Governor Cuomo, defended the requirement as “incentivizing on-time graduation.”

The credit requirement has had stimulating effects on both Ghennah and Ryan. Ryan says, “I definitely have been more motivated. I want to make sure that I don’t lose the scholarship.”

Ghennah was well-aware of the 30-credit mandate when she applied for and accepted her Excelsior award. Feeling the pressure of Excelsior, she enrolled in and successfully completed 32 credits during her sophomore year. Now that she is a junior, she is on track to have 90-plus credits by the end of the current academic year and has planned out her courses on a color-coded spreadsheet so that she will graduate at the end of her fourth year, something only achieved by 27% of Brooklyn College students.  

Yet Ghennah and Ryan are just two data points in a crowd of some 20,086 Excelsior recipients. To better understand whether Excelsior is bolstering credit accumulation and on-time completion at CUNY and SUNY colleges, the State’s Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) should release detailed Excelsior data to the public and to researchers. Thus far, HESC has released only basic Excelsior data, and belatedly so. Information on the Fall 2017 beneficiaries was released in July 2018, and information on the Spring 2018 beneficiaries has not yet been released as of mid-October.       

Implementation Woes
New public sector programs often encounter implementation road-bumps, yet Excelsior's first year was particularly rough.

HESC admittedly had especially tight time constraints. The Legislature voted in support of Excelsior in April 2017, just months before the start of the academic year. Only after the HESC Board met in May and approved of the program’s regulations could the agency issue the online application, which it did in early June, requiring submissions by late July. This meant that the official eligibility criteria and application procedures only had two months to filter down to CUNY and SUNY students, most of whom were off campus, and prospective students.

With a lack of clarity as to who was eligible, many students applied for Excelsior who neither needed nor were eligible for it. Of the 91,961 Excelsior applicants for Fall 2017, up to 28,362 did not need to complete the application, as they were already eligible for other grant aid to fully cover their tuition costs. Another 43,513 applicants were denied for failing to meet the eligibility criteria, with most of them—36,095—rejected because they did not meet the requirement of having earned 30 credits per year for each year of prior collegiate study.  

Assembly Member Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the Assembly education committee, asked a Cuomo representative during a December 2017 hearing, "Did we do so much when it came to letting people know that the program existed but not enough in letting people know what the criteria was and raised false hopes?" Cuomo’s representative replied, “I don't think we did.”  

One Excelsior requirement that has yet to be well-communicated requires recipients who complete less than 30 credits during a full academic year to pay back the second semester of their Excelsior aid. The main HESC Excelsior website buries this requirement in a long list of FAQs. Given that the “payback” requirement is non-intuitive and unprecedented in financial aid program design, one would expect that it would be featured more prominently on the website and in HESC communications.  

In August 2018, at a HESC Board Meeting, Sarah Buell, a SUNY financial aid officer speaking as a member of the SUNY Financial Aid Professionals group, expressed the frustrations of the group when she said, “We have gone months without formal written guidance.” According to Buell, SUNY financial aid officers were struggling with how to answer basic questions from students and parents about Excelsior’s regulations and about HESC’s processing of applications.  

The following day, SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson’s office sent a memo to campuses directing their financial aid officers not to speak with the media.

Denied Excelsior
Razieh Arabi is one of the students who applied for Excelsior aid and was denied. A 37-year-old single mother, Razieh applied for Excelsior as she was transferring to CUNY Baruch College after having completed an associate degree at CUNY Queensborough Community College (QCC) with a GPA of 3.93.

What happened? Because Razieh had taken three years to complete her Queensborough degree, having begun as a part-time student, and also because she had attended a proprietary college before Queensborough, she was deemed off-track and ineligible for Excelsior. When she received the denial letter, she says, “Despite all the hope the program provided, it felt like everything was falling apart for me.”  

HESC’s regulations were explicit that the 30 credits per year requirement was retroactive, and the application asks detailed college history questions, yet Razieh says that she was not aware that her past enrollment history would disqualify her. When she applied, she thought that an accomplished student like herself was naturally eligible for the program. “If I’m not qualified, then who is qualified?” she asks. (Graduating in three years from Queensborough after beginning as a part-time student was a remarkable feat by Razieh given that QCC has a 22.6% three-year graduation rate for students who begin full-time.)

Since being denied Excelsior, Razieh has become an activist for reforms to the program. At the rally held in late August, at which Council Member Barron spoke, Razieh addressed the crowd. “Governor Cuomo should make critical reforms to the Excelsior Scholarship program,” she said. “If you are making a promise, then rise up to the challenge and don’t deliver just an empty promise.”  

Razieh tells the story of her Excelsior denial with elements of tragedy, comedy, and anger. She had already felt wronged by the proprietary college sector that had wasted her time and money and by the federal financial aid formula that limited her aid while at Queensborough. Now she considered herself wronged by the retroactivity of a standard that she could have never known about, lacking the ability to see into the future, before Excelsior existed.

Excelsior’s Future
As more and more students get caught up in Excelsior’s complex rules, the program is being exposed as a complicated financial aid initiative, just like Pell and TAP, and it may come to be seen as punitive, too, due to the payback requirement. Though HESC has said that the payback stipulation will be waived for students who miss the 30-credit cutoff because of documented hardships, the guidance is limited on which hardship appeals will be accepted and which won’t. A death of a parent clearly qualifies for a successful appeal, but will a stressful relationship breakup combined with family problems and a terrible summer session chemistry class be enough for a student with 27 credits due to an F in that chemistry class to maintain the scholarship via an appeal? The guidance is not definitive.  

Another requirement of Excelsior is that beneficiaries must stay in-state following graduation for the same number of years as they received the scholarship, lest their awards convert into loans. The requirement has been equated with indentured servitude. While both Ghennah and Ryan plan to stay in-state following graduation, other students will likely feel trapped.      

Despite all its failures and flaws, few are calling for Excelsior to be rolled back. Instead, Excelsior has become established policy. Senator Krueger says, “It’s very rare that you create a program that can be taken advantage of by people who are above the poverty level. Those programs don’t get taken away.”  

Advocates of expanding financial aid in New York State, like Tom Hilliard, who wrote the CUF report, say that Excelsior is the base from which incremental reforms can be made, reforms that make the promise of “free college” more real to more students. Hilliard has called for reducing the onerous 30-credit burden, eliminating its retroactivity provisions, and getting rid of the requirement that graduates remain in-state.

Senator Krueger says, “We need to amend and improve Excelsior. Full-time is an unrealistic ask, and we need to offer flexibility to students who can’t go full-time.”

Echoing Krueger, State Senator Luis Sepulveda, Bronx Democrat, adds, “Excelsior has to be tweaked so that it can help a larger body of students, especially those who also need to work.”  

This fall, Sepulveda plans to introduce, with other Democratic colleagues, a bill to modify the 30-credit requirement. The bill may adopt TAP’s satisfactory academic progress standards, or, at a minimum, according to Sepulveda, it will authorize HESC to count developmental education course credits, which are typically non-credited, towards the 30-credit threshold.  

Krueger and Sepulveda both consider the conversation about Excelsior to be part of a larger one about how to provide quality public higher education to state residents. Among other initiatives, Sepulveda calls for extending state financial aid to summer sessions, initiating a micro-grant program for emergency expenses, instituting a guided pathways system across CUNY and SUNY, and increasing base aid to colleges so that more sections of required courses can be offered. As Krueger says, “If we’re not putting more money into our universities, we’re actually risking the quality of the education that [Excelsior awardees] are getting.”

Both Krueger and Sepulveda say that after the November election—in which Democrats are poised to gain control of the State Senate—there will likely be enough votes to pass changes to Excelsior, and Sepulveda projects that the governor will support some reforms. “If this is something that the governor deems reasonable,” he said, “I believe that he will give it a hard look.” If Sepulveda is right, Excelsior’s junior year may well look different from its freshman and sophomore years.  

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Eric Neutuch is a freelance journalist.

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The Ups and Downs of Excelsior Scholarship’s Freshman Year and What Comes Next Mon, 29 Oct 2018 04:00:00 +0000
CUNY’s Turn to Provide Paid Parental Leave for All http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7792-cuny-s-turn-to-provide-paid-parental-leave-for-all http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7792-cuny-s-turn-to-provide-paid-parental-leave-for-all CUNY commencement

Macaulay Honors College commencement (photo via CUNY)


She hid her growing belly under loose dresses and oversized sweaters when she taught her classes of 30 college students. She avoided the departmental office during normal work hours, retrieving her mail early in the morning. If someone realized she was pregnant, she worried, some excuse would be found to deny her work for the next semester. With a baby on the way, losing her job would have put her and her spouse over the financial edge on which they delicately teetered.

Finally, after securing work, the adjunct faculty member relaxed and let her pregnancy show. Still, she worried about the due date. If there were complications, would she be able to return to work within a week as her employer required?

A story from a past generation? No. At CUNY, many adjunct faculty members – called “part-timers”– avoid telling their department chairs and colleagues about an impending pregnancy because their work is contingent from one semester to the next and they fear non-reappointment. Pregnancy discrimination is difficult to prove as adjuncts can be denied employment for any reason or no reason at all.

Even after that hurdle is successfully cleared, CUNY requires that a woman return to work a week after giving birth. Often, this is difficult for the mother and child. Sometimes, it is impossible. Then, she faces the peril of being unilaterally fired, losing her health benefits as well as her income just when she needs them most.
Sometimes co-workers willingly contribute unpaid labor to spell the new mother in the classroom and kindly administrators look the other way. But in many cases, it seems “easier” to find a new part-time faculty member to teach a class than to provide accommodations for the pregnant one. This discrimination arises from chronic understaffing, the well-worn trope of “interruption” to students’ education, and, especially, a pervasive attitude that, even though they teach more than half of all CUNY courses, adjuncts are seen as little more than the labor they provide.

CUNY still pointedly disavows any institutional responsibility to even long-time workers. Adjuncts don’t even have the right to “bank” unused sick days from one semester to the next, and the oddity of counting only their classroom hours as “work time” makes most ineligible for even the limited protections of the Family Medical Leave Act.

We are hopeful, though, that CUNY will soon see fit to enter the 21st century. Recently, two New York faculty unions, United Federation of Teachers and SUNY’s United University Professors, have won paid parental/caregiving leave for their members. And CUNY’s new interim chancellor, Vita Rabinowitz, is a renowned feminist scholar. While working at Hunter College, she was the founder of the Gender Equity Project, intended to clear away obstacles facing women faculty. At a recent Board of Trustees meeting, over a dozen adjuncts asked her to utilize a new state law as a vehicle for the kind of workplace justice she pioneered earlier in her career.

Under New York Paid Family Leave, workers pay a small supplement and receive partial pay and the right to return to their job for up to 12 weeks after childbirth, adoption, or to care for a sick family member. While private employers are required to implement the PFL, unfortunately, public employers, such as CUNY, can choose whether to opt in or not. So far, CUNY has failed to do so.

Currently, CUNY has over 15,000 “part-timers” who need relief from uncertainty. It’s time for their employer to provide this small modicum of security and stability. Then, paid family leave would make CUNY a place where pregnant women can proudly display their bellies for all the celebration that creating new life brings.

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Pamela Stemberg is an adjunct lecturer teaching at CCNY and Hostos College. Marc Kagan is a graduate assistant teaching at Lehman College.

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CUNY’s Turn to Provide Paid Parental Leave for All Sun, 08 Jul 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Task Force Created by City Council Recommends CUNY Go Tuition-Free http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7706-task-force-created-by-city-council-recommends-cuny-go-tuition-free http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7706-task-force-created-by-city-council-recommends-cuny-go-tuition-free Inez Barron City Council

Council Member Inez Barron (photo: Ben Brachfeld)


A long-awaited report was released on Thursday by the Task Force on Affordability, Admissions, and Graduation Rates at the City University of New York -- convened through City Council legislation -- that included recommendations for broad changes to the operations and funding of CUNY. Most notably, the task force, consisting of students, faculty, advocates, government officials, members of the business community, and one member of the CUNY Board of Trustees, recommended that tuition charges be eliminated at the city public university system.

The report was commissioned by an act of the City Council in November 2016, introduced and championed by Brooklyn Council Member Inez Barron, a Hunter College graduate who says she wouldn’t be able to attend college and become a member of the New York City Council had she not attended during a period when tuition to CUNY was largely free.

The task force, consisting of members appointed by the mayor, City Council speaker, and public advocate, was expected to produce a report within a year outlining recommendations for improving the status of CUNY, and examining policy solutions including free tuition. The Task Force was co-chaired by Stephen Brier, a professor in urban education at the CUNY Graduate Center, and Hercules Reid, a student at the New York Institute of Technology and former vice chair for legislative affairs for the CUNY University Student Senate.

The report was released just ahead of a Council hearing on its recommendations, chaired by Barron, who leads the Council’s Committee on Higher Education. The day was not without tension, as Barron said the de Blasio administration had delayed the release of the report for several months.

  • The report outlines 21 recommendations for improving CUNY. First and foremost is the aforementioned free tuition, to be funded by increased subsidy from the state and city, which both currently help fund the university system. Recommendations also include:
  • Hire significantly more full time faculty, reversing a decades-long trend of faculty hemorrhaging in favor of adjuncts;
  • Create an emergency fund to meet pressing needs of low-income students such as rent and food;
  • Hire, through CUNY and the city Department of Education, full-time guidance counselors to help students with the transition between high school and college;
  • Expand much-heralded Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP);
  • Eliminate yearly credit requirements for the state-run Excelsior Scholarship;
  • Provide free MetroCards to all CUNY students;
  • Double pay for adjuncts, to around $7,000 per course;
  • Increase CUNY capital funding, to address infrastructure-related issues.

Barron said on Thursday that the report was finished in December, but that the de Blasio administration requested an indefinite extension so that it could review the report and announce its findings together with the task force. Barron said she complied, but on Thursday she said that she had not heard anything from the mayor’s office since December.

“Well, here it is, six months later, and there has been nothing different done in terms of what this report said at its completion in December,” Barron said at a rally outside City Hall prior to the hearing. The rally was also attended by members of the task force, CUNY students, and advocates, but no other City Council members; Barron said that this was due to prior commitments rather than a lack of support for eliminating tuition at CUNY, and that several Council members had reaffirmed their support to her.

“We’re very displeased,” she continued. “I think that was very disingenuous of the mayor to do that, and I think that we need to make sure that we let him know we are committed to CUNY improving, having better access, being affordable -- of course my position is that it should be free.”

Speaking with Gotham Gazette, Barron said that the administration was not being forthcoming as to why it had stalled, beyond the extension request in December.

“They’re not involved in supporting us at this point,” she said. “They haven’t given any reasons that relate to this document, but we do want to make sure that we go forward and that we don’t let them deter us.”

In response to allegations about stalling the report, the de Blasio administration touted an increase in city funding for CUNY under his watch.

“The Mayor believes that CUNY should be affordable, and we continue to invest to help make that happen despite not having control over the system,” said Raul Contreras, a spokesperson for the mayor. “In fact, the City will contribute nearly $255 million annually by 2021. We will continue to work with the City Council and State to provide high-quality, affordable education at CUNY.”

According to the task force report, CUNY was largely free for much of its existence. Founded in 1847 as “The Free Academy,” qualifying students from New York City schools were given a free education. In 1969, CUNY switched to free open enrollment for any New York City public high school student. This significantly increased both the matriculated student population and the diversity of the student body. The 1970-71 term, the first with open admissions, saw a 75 percent increase in the matriculated student body over the 1969-70 term. In 1969, 78 percent of freshmen entering CUNY were white; by 1975, after five years of open enrollment, this number dropped to 30 percent, according to the task force report.

But in the midst of New York City’s fiscal crisis, the report says, that nearly led it to bankruptcy, the city handed over control of CUNY’s operating budget to the state, which promptly started charging tuition across the board for the first time in CUNY’s history. With tuition instated, the state could begin diminishing its subsidy and forcing CUNY to rely on student tuition for an increasing portion of its operating budget. The task force report released Thursday included a chart demonstrating this trend: in the 1990-91 school year, student tuition accounted for 21 percent of CUNY’s operating revenue; in 2014-15, that number had risen sharply, to 46 percent. In the same time frame, state funding fell from 74 percent to 53 percent, and city funding fell from 5 percent to 1 percent.

Cuomo, who in 2016 launched an investigation into CUNY over administrative misuse of funds, has resisted shifting costs from students to the state. The fiscal year 2019 enacted state budget, in effect beginning April 1 of this year, increases state funding for CUNY over last year by approximately $50 million; the increase in state funding this year for SUNY and CUNY was touted by Cuomo in the wake of the budget’s passage. Regardless, the state’s $1.9 billion funding comprises 52 percent of CUNY’s $3.6 billion total operating budget, about equal to the 2014-15 percentage.

As it stands, tuition at CUNY, where half a million students pursue either undergraduate or graduate degrees, is $6,530 per year at senior colleges and $4,800 per year at community colleges (for in-state students; out-of-state students pay much more). In the 2008-09 school year, tuition at senior colleges was $4,000 and at community colleges was $2,800. There has been a 63 percent and 71 percent jump, respectively, in ten years.

Even these somewhat modest tuition costs are unaffordable for many students, but large numbers pay tuition with state and federal aid through TAP, Pell Grants, and student loans. The maximum TAP award in 2017-18 was $5,165, while for Pell Grants the maximum award was $5,920. According to David Crook, CUNY’s Associate Dean of Student Affairs, 61 percent of CUNY senior college students attend school for free, and 71 percent of community college students do the same, vis a vis a mixture of TAP and Pell grant benefits. Crook was the only CUNY official to testify at the City Council hearing; he said his colleagues were overseeing graduations on Thursday, otherwise they would have come.

For those who qualify, the Excelsior Scholarship can fill in what’s unaccounted for. Excelsior, a Cuomo program passed in 2017 with the blessing of U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, was the object of ire among speakers at the rally and the hearing.

“I want to thank [Inez Barron] for figuring out how to actually give us free CUNY,” said Samitha, a CUNY student and student leader at the New York Public Interest Research Group, at the rally. “Not watered down policies like Excelsior, which 99 percent of CUNY students don’t even qualify for.”

The report claims that “only about 2,000 of CUNY’s 240,000 undergraduates qualified for” the Excelsior Scholarship, which would put the number of students in the CUNY system who qualify for Excelsior at around 1 percent. At the hearing, Crook claimed that the number of qualifying students was actually closer to 4,700, though the total number of undergraduates attending CUNY has also risen to 275,000.

Excelsior kicks in after a student’s TAP and Pell Grant benefits have been exhausted, and comes with requirements that have been criticized as exclusionary for low-income students. To qualify, New York State students from households earning less than the income threshold ($100,000 the first year, $110,000 this year, and $125,000 next year and beyond) must take 30 credits per year and be on track to graduate in two years for an associate’s degree or four years for a bachelor’s degree. This can exclude part-time students, many low-income, who cannot attend school full-time or consecutively, potentially due to work or family commitments. The task force’s recommendations include an elimination of the credit requirements for Excelsior.

The governor’s office, in a statement, disputed the notion that Excelsior doesn't help low-income students.

"New York leads the nation in creating equal opportunity for all, no matter one’s background or family fortune,” said Tyrone Stevens, a spokesperson for the governor. “Governor Cuomo’s first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarship is helping students receive a tuition-free education that taps their potential and prepares them for the 21st century economy. It’s a critical investment in future of New York, and we’re proud of the progress this program has already delivered.”

For students pursuing an associate’s degree, Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) provides tuition waivers as well as career and financial advisory, free Metrocards and textbooks, and generalized advisory services. ASAP has been a success, increasing graduation rates for students pursuing associate’s degrees: an analysis found that 52.5 percent of ASAP students completed their degrees within three years, versus 26.8 percent of a control group. It has garnered praise from former President Barack Obama, among others; the report recommends it be made available at all campuses.

But even for students who don’t pay a dime of tuition out of pocket, the costs can add up. The cost of rent, food, transportation, and textbooks alone can add up to several thousands of dollars per year. Barron said that, at a recent budget hearing, a CUNY student named Levi testified that he had not eaten for two days so that he could afford a Metrocard to go to class. The problem of food insecurity among college students is widespread: a recent study from Temple University found that 36 percent of students surveyed had been food insecure in the past year, and that this number was likely low due to stigma attached to student poverty.

According to data presented by Crook, 42 percent of CUNY students come from families with household incomes below $20,000, and 58 percent receive Pell Grants, a federal grant for low-income students.

The task force report, in turn, recommends that CUNY provide free Metrocards to all CUNY students, and that CUNY establish a $5 million “emergency fund” to “help respond to its students’ immediate financial problems and emergencies (e.g. rent payments, medical expenses, food and book purchases) that prevent students’ from completing their university studies.”

The report also recommends that CUNY increase full-time faculty significantly, and rely less on adjuncts. Brier reported that CUNY has lost about 3,000 full-time faculty members since the 1970s, and that almost all of these positions had been replaced by adjuncts, who are paid meager amounts of money and often have to teach several classes just to scrape by. Adjuncts currently make up one-in-two faculty members at CUNY; they are paid between $3,000 and $3,500 per course, which the report recommends be doubled to $7,000 per course.

City Council Member Laurie Cumbo, a former CUNY adjunct, noted that the meager pay and lack of benefits, leading to adjuncts taking several positions at different institutions, causes professors to be absent for their students in terms of office hours and other assistive functions, such as advising on theses and writing letters of recommendation.

“All of these different things are not calculated into the time that it takes for an adjunct to effectively teach a course,” Cumbo said.

A critical factor missing from the report concerns costs. Free tuition, not to mention the other recommendations, would cost hundreds of millions or even billions of dollars, and there is no question that the city, state, and federal governments would fight over who has to pony up. Brier, questioned by Council Member Bob Holden, noted that free tuition would cover what isn’t already covered by the city, state, and federal governments in funding; in 2016, this number, amounting to the out-of-pocket tuition paid by students, amounted to $784 million annually to pay for free tuition. In an email to Gotham Gazette, Brier said that number is likely higher today.

“It hasn’t been costed out and the number is likely higher because of the increase in undergrad numbers,” Brier said. “This is work we hoped would be done following the report. We didn’t have the staff or time to do that work, which is much needed.” Reid, the co-chair of the task force, had earlier said that the de Blasio administration finally contacted the task force on Wednesday, the day before the hearing, and shared feedback.

Because the administration was not involved in the release of the report and the funding numbers and mechanisms are not clear, the report has not technically been completed, though the task force says it has reached the end of the work. In effect, it’s more of a framework of recommendations than it is a detailed policy document. The report had “draft” written on the front and contains a “confidential” watermark on each page, despite being made publicly available at the City Council on Thursday.

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by Ben Brachfeld, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

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Task Force Created by City Council Recommends CUNY Go Tuition-Free Thu, 31 May 2018 04:00:00 +0000
Education Adrift: New Chancellors Needed for City School, University Systems http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7481-education-adrift-new-chancellors-needed-for-city-school-university-systems http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/7481-education-adrift-new-chancellors-needed-for-city-school-university-systems de Blasio Farina schools new chancellor

Mayor de Blasio, Chancellor Fariña & others (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)


Lame duck chancellors now lead New York’s school and university systems. Governor Cuomo, who controls the CUNY board, and Mayor de Blasio, who appoints the schools chancellor, each show a shocking lack of urgency to fill these critical posts.

This is intolerable. Education is the driver of our information age. Social progress and economic prosperity depend on a vibrant public sector commitment. The city Department of Education enrolls a million children, pre-K through grade 12. CUNY enrolls 275,000 undergraduate and graduate students. Yet our elected leaders allow these essential institutions to remain rudderless.

Our schools and colleges should be brimming with excitement. New technologies, exploding fields of scientific endeavor, novel business opportunities, and a wealth of artistic media make this a particularly fertile time to teach and to learn. A new generation of education leaders is needed to meet this challenge, ready to bring vision and creativity to jobs that have become handmaidens to parochial political interests.

The leadership vacuum holds us back. New York’s position as the World’s Capital is threatened by educational backsliding and neglect. When Mayor de Blasio announced that Carmen Fariña’s successor would be cut from the same mold, my heart sank. Not that she’s been a bad chancellor but because we need a new chancellor, filled with original ideas and vision.

And who beside insiders even know the CUNY Chancellor’s name? James Milliken announced his departure three months ago after just three years on the job. His tenure has been marked by defending repeated charges of long-term fiscal mismanagement. Belated filling of vacancies on the CUNY board by Governor Cuomo and tensions surrounding appointment of City College’s new president added to system-wide stasis, a lost opportunity when Columbia, NYU, and Cornell’s new Roosevelt Island campus are all expanding.

Union leadership has been complicit in this lack of forward motion, settling into predictable cycles of management opposition and compliance for short-term interests. But Michael Mulgrew of the UFT and Barbara Bowen of PSC-CUNY, each safely ensconced in their positions, should do much more. New York labor leaders have historically been national figures, fighting tooth-and-nail for their members and the public good. Innovative contract terms can be an engines for implementing instructional progress if union sights are raised above routine salary demands.

Current belt-tightening by the federal, state, and city governments should not be an excuse for treading water. If anything, the budget picture requires increased institutional agility. Consolidation of organizational structures may be necessary, requiring different operational strategies. Principled reform of antiquated or unneeded functions can be catalyzed by cuts. Public officials’ well-known motto that “no serious crisis should go to waste” requires courage and consensus to implement. This is a challenge that requires new thinking, pointing again to the need for immediate change in the city’s top education posts.

This is a propitious moment for such change. With two ambitious politicians on the cusp of filling these leadership positions, a coordinated approach to New York City’s educational future is possible. Perhaps the Cuomo-de Blasio feud can find a moment of détente or realization that their mutual self-interest dictates summitry. With claims to being The Education Governor and The Education Mayor, the high-visibility appointment of quality chancellors for each of their fiefs will send a message of optimism and renewal that both can use to their advantage. Let us hope this flickering possibility can light our educational future.

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David C. Bloomfield is Professor of Educational Leadership, Law & Policy at Brooklyn College and The CUNY Graduate Center. On Twitter @BloomfieldDavid.

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Education Adrift: New Chancellors Needed for City School, University Systems Wed, 14 Feb 2018 05:00:00 +0000
LaGuardia College President Whipped Colleague Support for Cuomo Scholarship http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7088-laguardia-college-president-whipped-colleague-support-for-cuomo-scholarship http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/7088-laguardia-college-president-whipped-colleague-support-for-cuomo-scholarship
Cuomo with Hillary Clinton, Gail Mellow, far right, & others (photo: Governor's Office)

Dr. Gail O. Mellow, the president of LaGuardia Community College, contacted fellow City University of New York (CUNY) presidents to gather statements in support of the proposed Excelsior Scholarship program on behalf of Governor Andrew Cuomo, before the proposal was passed and signed into law earlier this year.

Gotham Gazette previously reported that the governor’s office launched a push to bring CUNY leaders on board with the plan early this year, at the same time as the governor was pushing for greater oversight over the system and an investigation conducted by his appointed Inspector General was expanding. The role played by Mellow was rumored but not known. LaGuardia College was the site where Cuomo both announced Excelsior in January alongside Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders and ceremonially signed the bill alongside Hillary Clinton in April.

A public records request filed by Gotham Gazette requesting Excelsior-related emails between Mellow and Cuomo administration officials was initially denied, and only partially granted upon appeal. The heavily redacted emails block out much of the correspondence. What they do show is Mellow sending Dan Fuller, Cuomo’s Assistant Secretary for Education, statements from Bronx Community College President Thomas Isekenegbe; Hostos Community College President David Gómez; Medgar Evers College President Rudy Crew; Brooklyn College President Michelle Anderson; York College President Marcia Keizs; and College of Staten Island President William Fritz.

The statements forwarded by Mellow would ultimately appear in a press release that the governor’s office put out in May, touting the support of CUNY and SUNY presidents for the scholarship. Portions of the emails that came immediately before or after the statements, or direct interactions between Mellow and Fuller, are largely redacted. In one example, the email from Mellow followed “Dear Dan,” followed by a black box, followed by Mellow signing off as “Gail,” with nothing visible in between.

It’s not uncommon for elected officials drafting and pushing legislative proposals to enlist and work with affected individuals, other officials, activists, and community members. However, a campaign to create a shift of the Excelsior Scholarship’s magnitude may be more likely to be centrally coordinated, perhaps by CUNY Chancellor James Milliken or his staff. It is unclear why Mellow took the lead in this case, and what she was telling her colleagues, many of whom were skeptical of aspects of the plan, on behalf of the governor’s office.

The scholarship will cover tuition for CUNY and State University of New York (SUNY) students from households with incomes up to $125,000 a year by 2019. The fact that it would cover tuition alone, after all other grants and scholarships have been applied, and requires students to finish on time and live in the state for a period after graduation has drawn criticism from some students, activists, and educators.

The exchanges have been carefully redacted so that the emails between Mellow and Fuller contain only the statements that Mellow is sending, which became public, along with brief notes like “Here is another quote.” The subject lines are similar; examples include “FW: quote for NY’s Excelsior scholarship,” “Additional quote,” and “RE: another one more & …” This seems to indicate that Fuller was requesting additional quotes.

In an emailed statement, Elizabeth Streich, a spokesperson for LaGuardia, said that “based on [Mellow’s] national advocacy for free college, when Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the Excelsior Scholarship, she jumped right in to increase public awareness about it. She worked with fellow CUNY College presidents to help increase understanding, and build support for Excelsior.”

Streich did not detail what Mellow had told the other presidents to elicit their responses, nor did she give details of or characterize Mellow’s conversations with Fuller or other members of the Cuomo administration. Fuller did not return requests for comment. Emails to spokespeople for the governor were not answered.

CUNY colleges and affiliated nonprofits continue to be the subjects of a wide-ranging state Inspector General investigation into their structure and financial operations. The investigation released a preliminary report in November, and continued to expand early this year, at the same time as the governor’s office was seeking support for Excelsior and Cuomo was calling for additional inspector generals – which he would appoint – to oversee CUNY and SUNY, as well as new taxes on their affiliated nonprofits. These proposals were not ultimately enacted.

Shown the email exchanges, John Kaehny, the executive director of good government group Reinvent Albany, said the governor and Mellow should release unredacted emails “to lay to rest public concerns about CUNY administrators being pressured to make supportive statements about the governor's Excelsior Scholarship program. We saw redacted emails that raised more questions than they answered.”

One email in the chain involves Anthony Bernal, an aide to Dr. Jill Biden, the wife of former Vice President Joe Biden and a professor at Northern Virginia Community College. Bernal is responding to an email Mellow is copied on, in which Fuller has sent a draft of a statement that the governor’s office wants to attribute to Jill Biden in support of the proposal. Mellow is described as “[working] closely with Dr. Biden on these important issues.” The statement does not appear to have been ultimately used by the governor’s office.

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

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LaGuardia College President Whipped Colleague Support for Cuomo Scholarship Wed, 26 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000