Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/951 Thu, 20 Sep 2018 08:57:25 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) CUNY’s Turn to Provide Paid Parental Leave for All http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7792:cuny-s-turn-to-provide-paid-parental-leave-for-all http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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/?id=7706:task-force-created-by-city-council-recommends-cuny-go-tuition-free http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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

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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/?id=7481:education-adrift-new-chancellors-needed-for-city-school-university-systems http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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/?id=7088:laguardia-college-president-whipped-colleague-support-for-cuomo-scholarship http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=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
While Calling for CUNY Investigations, Cuomo Sought Endorsements from College Presidents http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6987:while-calling-for-cuny-investigations-cuomo-sought-endorsements-from-college-presidents http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6987:while-calling-for-cuny-investigations-cuomo-sought-endorsements-from-college-presidents Cuomo Sanders Excelsior 
(photo: Kevin Coughlin/Governor’s Office)


Public university administrators and college presidents enthusiastically supporting a governor’s proposal to fund tuition for potential students is a situation that would normally invite little scrutiny.

That picture becomes murkier when the university’s management has been a frequent target of that governor; is the focus of an expanding investigation conducted by the state’s inspector general, who reports to the secretary to the governor; and the governor publicly calls for greater oversight of the university system while seeking its top officials’ endorsements of his tuition subsidy proposal.

This describes the state of affairs for the state-controlled City University of New York (CUNY), which has been in the crosshairs as a former City College president and affiliated foundation are facing a federal probe and a state investigation targeting university-wide financial practices is underway.

The latter is spearheaded by Inspector General Catherine Leahy Scott, who served as Assistant Attorney General under then-Attorney General Andrew Cuomo before he was elected governor in 2010. Cuomo, a Democrat, appointed Scott to her current post in 2013, after she had served as acting Inspector General for a year. Cuomo was reelected in 2014.

After unveiling it in January alongside Senator Bernie Sanders, Cuomo spent months pushing his Excelsior Scholarship program, which would make CUNY and State University of New York (SUNY) tuition-free for many students from middle-class families. The scholarship was passed as part of a state budget deal in early April and signed that same month to great fanfare, with Cuomo extolled by Hillary Clinton.

In between, Cuomo also outlined his 2017 government ethics agenda, which included greater oversight of the CUNY and SUNY systems, and sought the endorsements of Excelsior by top CUNY and SUNY officials, including all the college presidents. As the governor negotiated with legislative leaders, Cuomo’s office announced in a March press release that nearly every CUNY or SUNY president was backing the plan.

The I.G. investigation began in October 2016 after CUNY board Chair William Thompson Jr. sent a letter to Inspector General Scott following revelations about deposed City College president Lisa Coico’s misuse of funds from the affiliated 21st Century Foundation, a nonprofit.

Earlier this month, Mr. Thompson, a Cuomo ally, said on City & State’s Slant podcast’s Slant podcast that he has thus far met with Scott about a half-dozen times, and stated that the board was looking “top-to-bottom,” at the makeup of the faculty and administration. Thompson did not respond to a request for comment for this article.

In November, Scott’s office took the unusual step of releasing its preliminary report; it detailed investigators’ discoveries that discretionary presidential funds were being used inappropriately, oversight was lax, and significant resources were being utilized to pay for “duplicative” government lobbying.

Following the release, the governor said in a statement that he was “directing the CUNY Board to review the entire senior management at CUNY,” and indicated that he intended to appoint “separate Inspector Generals for both SUNY and CUNY” who would investigate wrongdoing, including through reviewing contracts and hiring. The system saw high-level officials depart for other posts.

Then, in his Fiscal Year 2018 Executive Budget, issued in January, Cuomo included a proposal to compel CUNY to collect from each affiliated organization and nonprofit 10 percent of its annual revenue for use in “tuition assistance initiatives.” The idea swiftly drew a letter from the presidents and chairs of the 11 largest foundations to the CUNY trustees, insinuating that the measure was at best a threat to the foundations’ ability to raise money and at worst illegal, and asking them to make their opposition known. Ultimately, the measure did not make it into the adopted budget, finalized in April.

The governor also called for the state I.G. to have expanded oversight over the university, which was likewise not found in the final budget.

At the same time, the governor’s office was working behind the scenes to whip up support for the governor’s headline-generating proposal, reaching out to members of the public universities and dispatching staffers to campuses to sell presidents on the measure.

A spokesperson for the governor insisted it was only natural for university officials and college presidents to back a proposal like Excelsior, but did not answer questions about whether the governor still intended to appoint university-specific inspectors. The spokesperson would not characterize conversations between CUNY administrators and executive staff beyond stating that they were policy discussions, but called concerns raised around the push for endorsements’ relationship with the push for oversight “insane” and “conspiracy theories.”

“Anyone pretending a link exists between the implementation of this initiative and an independent inquiry by the inspector general is both wildly misinformed and delusional,” said Abbey Fashouer, the Cuomo spokesperson, though Gotham Gazette had stressed that no specific link was being alleged and only posed questions about the timing of the endorsement overtures coinciding with calls for greater oversight and investigations.

Emails obtained by Gotham Gazette through the Freedom of Information Law indicate that the governor’s staff was contacting CUNY presidents in February to request statements in support of the Excelsior program. Ultimately, except for the presidents of Baruch College and Manhattan Community College, all CUNY college presidents issued statements supporting the proposal, released all together in the mid-March announcement from the governor’s office that touted “statewide Support from SUNY and CUNY Leadership.”

Asked about communication between the Inspector General’s office and each of the CUNY presidents, a spokesperson for the I.G.’s office said the office would not comment on an ongoing investigation.

In a January email, Kingsborough Community College president Farley Herzek thanked the governor’s Brooklyn regional representative, Drew Gabriel, for visiting the campus. “I appreciate being able to discuss the Governor’s proposed Excelsior opportunity. We deeply appreciate every opportunity there is to mitigate the financial challenges of attending college and the Governor’s plan does just that,” Herzek wrote.

He also attached a document with information on 24 different types of scholarship programs in California, and wrote that families of 40% of his students came from households with incomes less than $20,000 per year; the students had, in focus groups, said that non-tuition costs were their “greatest stressors,” and often had to attend school and work at the same time.

“Since the proposed Excelsior Scholarship is a ‘last dollar’ type of scholarship and students are required to be enrolled in 15 credits or more we may be excluding a very large and needy population of New Yorkers,” he wrote (the community college course-load requirement is lower than that for the four-year colleges), and offered to assist the governor in “moving his Excelsior Scholarship proposal forward.”

Herzek’s positive statements on the proposal and access to higher education generally, and his statistic about the percentage of low-income students attending his college, appear verbatim in his endorsement from the governor’s press release. His concerns about the program’s effectiveness were not included. Herzek did not respond to a request for comment from Gotham Gazette.

“Oversight of the Executive Branch should not be done by the Executive Branch,” said Reinvent Albany Executive Director John Kaehny, referring to a university whose board is controlled by the governor being investigated by an office headed by a Cuomo appointee. Kaehny also called it inappropriate for the governor to enlist CUNY administrators’ help to push a signature proposal. The concurrent timing of Cuomo's public push for oversight and private push for endorsements raises questions about the motivations provoking those endorsements of Excelsior.

Spokespeople for both the inspector general’s office and the governor’s office vigorously insisted that the I.G. is fully independent from any executive influence and a spokesperson for Cuomo argued that there was nothing inappropriate about the governor’s dual efforts: calling for more oversight of the university systems while seeking their leaders’ backing for his top 2017 proposal.

When fully phased-in, Excelsior will cover tuition to CUNY and the SUNY for students from households making up to $125,000 a year in 2019, provided they meet certain requirements. These include the stipulation that students take at least 30 credits per academic year and remain in the state after graduation for a period equaling the length of time they received the scholarship.

The program is a “last dollar” approach, meaning that it will cover the remaining tuition balance after all other scholarships and grants have been applied, and does not contribute anything towards non-tuition costs like books and housing, which often form the majority of student costs given that CUNY and SUNY already have relatively low tuition. It is meant to complement programs already in place to help students from the lowest-income families.

The stringent requirements have provoked criticism from many advocates, academics, and editorial boards, who have called it insufficient, onerous, and more. Some have also pointed out that at current funding levels, CUNY schools will likely be overwhelmed by the expected uptick in enrollment provoked by the scholarship.

Assemblymember Deborah Glick, a Manhattan Democrat and chair of the Committee on Higher Education, said that funds would have been better allocated to operating aid for CUNY, but did not think there was anything inappropriate about the governor requesting support from members of the system.

“The flip side of that is, should there be no communication between the governor and the city university while there are some particular things under review?” she said, and referenced the governor’s appointment of state budget director Robert Mujica to the CUNY board, a move she called “aggressive and inappropriate,” as a bigger problem.

A spokesperson for the governor’s office dismissed critics of the proposal as mostly “private universities” upset that they “weren’t included” in Excelsior.

In fact, in addition to the faculty union, skeptics of the program have included the CUNY Graduate Center’s newspaper, the president of the SUNY Student Assembly, and SUNY’s own trustees; an academic program coordinator at CUNY’s Borough of Manhattan Community College offered a point-by-point evisceration of the scholarship in an op-ed for Inside Higher Ed. Several state legislators sought significant changes to Excelsior that did not occur before the program was passed. In a phone conversation, Professor Katherine Conway, chair of the CUNY Faculty Senate, said the plan “is not going to do anything for [the poorest of students.]”

To be fair, Cuomo never said it would -- he instead billed Excelsior as “tuition-free for the middle class,” part of his Middle Class Recovery Act that he framed as his direct response to the anxiety shown in the 2016 presidential election. But, many critics point out that Cuomo made a mistake in making it clear he was not interested in additional help for the state’s neediest students, or potential students, who often struggle, don’t graduate, or don’t enroll because of non-tuition costs.

Asked if the body she chairs had been privy to any conversations between the governor’s staff and CUNY administrators, Conway, the chair of the faculty senate, said it had not, but added that “it isn’t in our interest to confront the governor.”

Spokespeople for both the Inspector General and the governor insisted that the investigation, given its focus, could not have had any bearing on CUNY leaders’ decisions to enthusiastically back a pressing agenda item.

“It's an ongoing investigation and the scope has been laid out publicly,” said the spokesperson for the Inspector General’s office.

A spokesperson for the CUNY system said in an email that he was not aware of any conversations between a member of the governor’s staff and a CUNY president or administrator that had touched on the ongoing investigation. In relation to internal conversations surrounding the program, he wrote that the Chancellor’s office “has been in continuous communication with college presidents and state officials, including at the Higher Education Services Corporation, about details of the Excelsior Scholarship program that will be addressed in the regulations to be issued later this month.”

But it was not simply the ongoing I.G. CUNY probe, but that the governor was publicly calling for more investigation and oversight of CUNY administration that may have added pressure to CUNY administrators and presidents to endorse the governor’s signature 2017 proposal. Neither Cuomo’s office nor the offices of CUNY presidents’ nor the CUNY Chancellor’s office would comment on this relationship.

Sources have indicated that with CUNY Chancellor James Milliken initially somewhat lukewarm to the proposal, LaGuardia Community College President Dr. Gail Mellow acted as a primary influencer in coaxing some of her CUNY colleagues to support Excelsior, helping get them to “yes” on endorsements. Both Milliken and Mellow declined to comment on the matter. Cuomo held both the Excelsior launch and celebratory bill-signing events at LaGuardia Community College.

Government observers and watchdog groups have called for oversight of the city and state university systems to be expanded under the state Comptroller, not the Inspector General, including certain contract oversight powers that were stripped by Cuomo and the Legislature in 2011.

In an email, Kaehny of Reinvent Albany said that his organization “believes that independent oversight by the Comptroller and Attorney General is far more effective than Inspector Generals appointed and controlled by the governor.”

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by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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While Calling for CUNY Investigations, Cuomo Sought Endorsements from College Presidents Sun, 11 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo’s Excelsior Plan Falls Far Short of Making CUNY Free Again http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6873:cuomo-s-excelsior-plan-falls-far-short-of-making-cuny-free-again http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6873:cuomo-s-excelsior-plan-falls-far-short-of-making-cuny-free-again cuomo clinton

(photo above via The Governor's Office) (image below by Becca Glaser)


With the regularity of a ritual, every year the advocates of high-quality public higher education make a pilgrimage to Albany. Every year, for over 40 years, the request has been the same: stop de-funding higher education. And nearly every year, for over 40 years, the Legislature and Governor do the same thing: cut funding and approve tuition hikes. As a result, annual per-student government expenditures in New York’s public higher education system languish at an average of $8,830; while private colleges nationwide spend an average of $23,100.

More than 60 years after Brown v. Board of Education, a college degree is what a high school diploma used to be. Yet, public and private higher education are increasingly separate and unequal -- and increasingly expensive.

It wasn’t always this way. CUNY was free for New Yorkers from 1847 to 1975, when the institution was majority white. The state imposed tuition through a Wall Street-aligned “Emergency Financial Control Board” in 1976. It was also the first year the university system enrolled a majority students of color.

The steady retreat of government from the provision of higher education as a public good has allowed Wall Street loan sharks to advance. Poor and working-class students have been the casualties, stuck relying on loans or longer and longer hours at low-wage jobs to get themselves through school.

The CUNY administration likes to tout the institution as the “American Dream Machine,” proclaiming in sunny subway ads that “80% graduate debt-free.” They don’t mention a darker truth: over 50% of those who enroll don’t graduate at all, falling prey to a lack of financial aid, the high cost of living in New York City, and the frequent unavailability of classes that are required for graduation (students call this “getting CUNYed”).

Facilities across CUNY are falling apart. And the faculty are increasingly overworked and underpaid -- over half of CUNY’s courses are taught by adjuncts making an average of $3,275 per course. With a full-time teaching load, that would bring you $19,650 per year before taxes, and put you in poverty.

This year in Albany was supposed to be different. On April 7, Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that a deal had been reached regarding the state budget, including approval for his Excelsior Scholarship program, which is now being billed as the first tuition-free college plan passed by a state.

Cuomo is selling us a bill of goods.

He says his “Excelsior” plan makes higher education free for “middle class” families. He does not mention that it actually increases tuition by $1,000 over the next five years (pending approval from the Board of Trustees). Cuomo claims that low-income students currently can cover their tuition with existing state and federal aid, but this is not generally true. Decades of funding cuts, tuition hikes, absurdly low income limits and other restrictions on aid mean that thousands of students already struggle to pay tuition and their costs of living. Now, thanks to Cuomo, they may have hundreds of dollars more in tuition to pay.

The Excelsior Scholarship is a smokescreen for this backdoor tuition hike that will fall on many of the neediest students, who do not qualify for the aid that Cuomo touts. To maintain eligibility for the scholarship, students must take 30 credits per year -- an average of five classes per semester in a standard school year, which is more than the minimum for being full-time. This is an impossibility for students who must work to provide for their families or care for children. With this inordinate course load, students must also maintain a certain GPA, to be decided by their college.

Undocumented students remain completely excluded from financial aid.

It gets worse. The Excelsior program will also take from the poorest students to fill the coffers of the state. At current rates of enrollment, the $1,000 tuition hike could bring in over $274 million in additional revenue at CUNY alone, given its 274,000 full-time students. It could bring in an additional $400 million from SUNY’s 400,000 undergraduates.

Yet, the state plans to spend only $163 million on the Excelsior Scholarship, leading to a net revenue increase for the government, in part paid for by those students who can’t qualify for the scholarship because they are not able to take five classes at a time.

tuition flatCuomo’s plan aids middle-income students while turning poor and working class students into a profit center, continuing the 40-year trend of reducing access for the poor to public higher education and shifting the funding burden to students. It also makes no provision for badly-needed investment in the CUNY system: including infrastructure, adjunct pay parity, and support for struggling students.

And there’s one more thing. For those who are able to maintain four years of five classes per semester and meet GPA requirements each semester, Cuomo’s plan will force its recipients to remain in New York for the same number of years that they received the scholarship. If graduates move out of state, they will be charged with debt equivalent to the tuition covered by the Excelsior Scholarship, sending more young people into the jaws of the student loan industry.

We have a better idea.

Higher education is a free public good in dozens of countries across the world, all of which are less wealthy that the United States. It used to be the norm here too. It’s time to bring it back.

The Campaign to Make CUNY Free Again is gathering 30,000 petition signatures to place the “Make CUNY Free Again Law” on the ballot in November’s election. Our proposal will do what Governor Cuomo would not. It will end separate and unequal in New York City’s higher education system by requiring the City to ask the State to authorize a tax on the top 1%. The law will guarantee funding to CUNY on parity with the median per-student expenditure in the private sector, guarantee any New York City resident (U.S. citizen or not) tuition-free access to a college education or the remedial programs necessary to prepare for college, stipends to remove poverty as a barrier to student success, and equity in pay between part-time and full-time faculty and staff, and between the public and private sectors.

For 40 years, the political class has pushed higher education farther out of reach for poor and working-class New Yorkers. If our campaign is successful, on November 7, 2017 we the people will go to the polls to have our say: education is a human right.

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The Campaign to Make CUNY Free Again is an independent initiative of CUNY students, faculty, staff, and community members in New York City. On Facebook & Twitter @MakeCUNYfree.

Signed:
Erik Forman (@_erikforman) teaches in the public K-12 and higher education system in New York City and is the co-founder of the NYC Social Justice Curriculum Fair.

Tim Hardin is an Inwood-based activist, Army combat veteran, and NYC DSA organizer who attends BMCC and advocates for a free CUNY, single-payer healthcare in NY, and other local and state grassroots campaigns.

Jennifer Hyman graduated from Hunter College with a BA in Political Science and Philosophy and from SUNY Binghamton with an MA in Social, Political, Ethical, and Legal Philosophy in 2011.

Rosa Squillacote is a PhD student at the CUNY Graduate Center; Hunter College adjunct professor and alum; and organizer with the CUNY branch of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Joseph van der Naald is a PhD student in the program in sociology at the CUNY Graduate Center.

Conor Tomás Reed is a CUNY doctoral student, scholar-in-residence at the Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, and organizer in the Campaign to Make CUNY Free Again.

Joseph Sellman is a community organizer and regional board member of Citizen Action New York, an active member of Voices of Community Activists and Leaders (VOCAL-NY), and an ‘83 alum of Baruch College.

Meghann Williams is an MFA Candidate in Poetry at Hunter College and is president of the Hunter College Graduate Student Association.

Tiffany Berruti is a queer undergraduate activists at Hunter College, and is currently involved in NYC DSA.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Cuomo’s Excelsior Plan Falls Far Short of Making CUNY Free Again Fri, 14 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
For Tuition Aid Boost to be Meaningful, CUNY Needs New Investment http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6827:for-tuition-aid-boost-to-be-meaningful-cuny-needs-new-investment http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6827:for-tuition-aid-boost-to-be-meaningful-cuny-needs-new-investment  brooklyn120816

James Davis, the author (photo: Dave Sanders)


There has never been a better moment for the state Legislature to fight for investment in quality, affordable public higher education. Governor Cuomo’s proposed Excelsior Scholarship, though flawed, has reaffirmed the value of CUNY and SUNY and made “free tuition” for many a realistic policy goal.

But, CUNY needs a substantial increase in state funding to ensure the quality of the education that it currently provides, and far more than that to provide free, quality education to its entire student body, which is likely to continue to grow significantly.

As undergraduate enrollment has steadily increased at CUNY, state funding has not kept pace. This has meant fewer faculty teaching more students – leading to less student contact with full-time faculty members and more students who cannot enroll in the already-full classes they need to graduate.

I teach at Brooklyn College, where over the past five years, fewer than half the undergraduate courses were taught by full-time faculty. Sadly, this is higher than the average across CUNY’s eight senior colleges. Our students need more contact with full-time professors, not less.

In addition to teaching and conducting research, we provide academic and career advisement and guide students toward extra-curricular opportunities and internships. Despite the high quality of many of our adjunct faculty, they cannot mentor students in these ways, and CUNY’s overreliance on a vast, underpaid, contingent workforce shortchanges our students. Increased state funding would pay for more full-time professors to meet our students’ needs and support better pay and teaching conditions for adjunct faculty.

CUNY faculty consistently rise to the occasion, absorbing the impact of defunding by taking more and more students into our classes. Student requests for “overtallies” into classes that exceed the enrollment limit, demands from administrators to offer “jumbo” size courses, trips down a hallway to borrow chairs from a neighboring classroom – these are regular occurrences at Brooklyn College.

“Students essentially have to beg multiple faculty members to enter a class,” remarked one of my colleagues, “often after the first, second, or even third session.” “Rather than stuffing more bodies into an already crowded room,” she noted, “more funding would allow for reasonable class sizes and give students access to the education they deserve.”

The chair of one department mentioned that despite adding three students to every professor’s roster above the enrollment cap in their general education courses, at least 20 additional students per semester are denied “overtally” requests.

The problem creates a backlog to degree progress. Students often have urgent reasons to take these courses – to graduate on time or to maintain financial aid eligibility. But it is impossible to let everyone in.

CUNY faculty care deeply about our students’ educational progress and classroom experience. As professors acquire more students, the incentive is to assign less work – fewer or shorter papers, fewer exams or assessments that are standardized for quick turnaround – but that is not in the students’ interest, and faculty absorb the brunt of the impact of defunding. Professors are not averse to staying up later at night to read the extra papers or write the necessary comments, but there are diminishing returns for everyone. Overtallies are a perhaps less visible or even ‘backdoor’ method of increasing class sizes, one that cheats our students and further squeezes underpaid instructors.

As state legislators weigh the merits of Governor Cuomo’s proposed Excelsior Scholarship, equal consideration should be given to educational quality as to access, and a substantial, long-overdue investment should be made in the City University.

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James Davis, Ph.D., is a professor of English at Brooklyn College and Brooklyn College Chapter Chair of the Professional Staff Congress.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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For Tuition Aid Boost to be Meaningful, CUNY Needs New Investment Thu, 23 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Cuomo’s Tuition-Free Plan Must Be More Inclusive http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6698:cuomo-s-tuition-free-plan-must-be-more-inclusive http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6698:cuomo-s-tuition-free-plan-must-be-more-inclusive Cuomo tuition-free college announcement

Gov. Cuomo (photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Governor's Office)


Governor Cuomo’s plan to make tuition free for many New York State residents who attend SUNY or CUNY two- or four-year schools would be an exciting step toward ensuring students across the state can access New York’s prized public university systems. The newly-announced Excelsior Scholarship proposal could help 940,000 families who qualify for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) with annual incomes less than $125,000. The program is designed to fill the gaps in tuition aid after state and federal grants have been used.

This is a big deal that New Yorkers should celebrate.

Yet, only increasing tuition aid is not enough alone to ensure true financial access. The proposal is a “last dollar” award, backfilling aid after state and federal grants, and therefore the program does not help low-income students who already have the full costs of their tuition covered by Pell and TAP but struggle to afford other expenses associated with earning a degree, such as books, child care, housing, transportation, and more.

In fact, non-tuition expenses make up the majority of the full cost of attending four-year and two-year public institutions. The Excelsior Scholarship program must come with a commitment to help cover these additional costs to allow students who enroll to actually stay in school, access the resources they need, and finish their degrees.

In addition to potentially leaving out the most at-need students who require more support than tuition coverage, the Excelsior Scholarship proposal turns a blind eye to some of New York’s neediest communities who would greatly benefit from a pathway to a free degree. Only students attending school full-time and who graduate on-time would be eligible to participate. This excludes part-time students, many of whom are balancing work and family responsibilities, requiring more than just free tuition to be able to attend college full-time. For the more than 84,000 undergraduate students at CUNY who attend part-time, representing almost 35 percent of undergraduate students, the Excelsior Scholarship falls short.

Another group excluded from this program are the more than 8,300 undocumented students currently attending SUNY or CUNY. The governor must hold true to his promises made to immigrant New Yorkers over the last few weeks by expanding the Excelsior Scholarship program to undocumented students and once and for all giving them access to state grants like the Tuition Assistance Program to access college.

The plan also claims it will increase on-time graduation rates by providing four years of tuition-free education, but we know being able to afford tuition doesn’t guarantee completion. It’s promising the governor is focused on improving graduation rates considering that less than 50 percent of four-year SUNY students and less than 30 percent of CUNY students graduate within four years. However, any plan to bolster timely completion must come with a commitment to significantly expanding opportunity programs that include academic and financial supports and services that support students while in school. This includes bringing to scale initiatives like CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) to ensure that disadvantaged students from underserved communities can equitably access and make the most of a free public higher education when given the opportunity.

Addressing the cost of tuition is a critical step toward getting more young New Yorkers to complete college, but tuition is not the only barrier to success. To meet the needs of New York’s students, to make sure they get the skills and training needed to meet the demands of the economy and combat New York’s high young adult unemployment crisis, Governor Cuomo and state legislators need to expand this burgeoning plan to include the most vulnerable students.

The governor’s foundational investment and enthusiasm toward making college more accessible by making it more affordable is a promising step forward. However, we need to ensure this program is expanded to include those New Yorkers with the least access and with greatest challenges to earning a college degree.

***
Kevin Stump is the Northeast Director for Young Invincibles, an advocacy and policy organization working on higher education, health, and jobs issues impacting 18-34 year olds. YI is also a part of President Obama's College Promise Task Force. On Twitter @KevinStump and @YoungInvincible.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Cuomo’s Tuition-Free Plan Must Be More Inclusive Wed, 04 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Report Shows Barriers, Offers Solutions for Non-Traditional Higher-Ed Students http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6684:report-shows-barriers-offers-solutions-for-non-traditional-higher-ed-students http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6684:report-shows-barriers-offers-solutions-for-non-traditional-higher-ed-students adult learners table brochures

(photo: Kevin Caraballo for NYC Schools)


As the job market has evolved over the past several decades, job requirements have become more and more specialized, requiring degrees and certifications that were not previously necessary. This has forced many who would not previously have considered higher education to pursue postsecondary programming.

In 1973, 28 percent of jobs nationwide required some level of postsecondary education. By 2018, that number is expected to hit 63 percent. This shift has led to a shift in what the postsecondary student population looks like, and these trends have exposed a gap in education offerings.

“The economy is becoming more and more dependent on skilled workers,” said Christian Gonzalez-Rivera, senior researcher at the Center for an Urban Future and author of a new report on “nontraditional students” and their paths to postsecondary degrees. “Employers who once hired people right out of high school for manufacturing are now looking for people with some postsecondary education, whether that’s a Bachelor’s degree, or an Associate’s degree, or a credential in a specific field.”

New York state is no exception to this trend. According to a new CUF study, New York’s public higher education systems, the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY), have seen a large influx of what CUF calls “nontraditional students”-- any student that is over the age of 25, enrolled part-time, working with a full-time job while attending school, raising children, or providing for dependents.

According to the study, The New Normal: Supporting Nontraditional Students on the Path to a Degree, “in New York City, 27 percent of community college students are aged 25 and older, 50 percent have a paying job (52 percent of working students work more than 20 hours a week), and 16 percent have children who they are supporting financially.” Additionally, one in four CUNY students are adults (25+).

“The student body is rather different from what it used to be. While the traditional student is somebody who attends school on a full-time basis, perhaps does a four-year program...increasingly you’re finding a lot more students who are adults or who already have children or are taking care of sick or elderly relatives who also need to go back to school because they know they need to increase their skills if they’re going to compete in today’s labor market,” said Gonzalez-Rivera in an interview discussing the report.

CUF reports that there are currently 139,501 students enrolled on a part-time basis at community colleges operated by SUNY or CUNY. In 1980, 32% of students nationwide attended community college part-time; 42% now do so. Part-timers at SUNY have a 28 percent graduation rate, while at CUNY that number is 24 percent.

“The problem with attending on a part-time basis is that it takes too long, it costs too much and because it takes so long it increases the chances that something’s going to get in the way,” Gonzalez-Rivera said. “The chances increase that you’re actually going to get derailed before you finish.”

While nontraditional students now make up a significant proportion of students in New York’s public higher education systems, these systems have failed to keep up with the changing demographics of their students. “State and federal education policy haven’t really kept up with that new trend,” according to Gonzalez-Rivera. “As a result you have really, really low graduation rates at community colleges.”

CUF’s report proposes several policy changes that would make higher education a lot more feasible for nontraditional students. Some smaller changes include block scheduling, more intensive and proactive advising aimed at preventing failure before it occurs, and “wrap around services” that provide help with non-academic issues such as child care or accessing public benefits.

Gonzalez-Rivera calls them “guided pathways” and believes they would help students structure their programs according to their other obligations, and to “decide what is the minimum path that you can take through school, what are the classes that you have to take in order to complete this degree without distractions.”

CUF is also proposing a much larger policy change that would restructure the traditional higher education paradigm. They call this proposal “stackable certification programs.” The idea is that in order to make it easier for nontraditional students to finish their degree, community colleges should offer students segmented certifications that qualify them for progressively more advanced jobs throughout their time at school, allowing them to earn an income and pay tuition.

As Gonzalez-Rivera put it, “Instead of having somebody have to wait two years to get their credential, they can get a credential every six months, that way they have something in hand and they don’t just go into college, drop out and come out with nothing...it’s about having educational pathways that link up with your career pathways.”

While there are schools that agree with this model, the main obstacles to implementing such a program are accreditation and financial aid regulations. As Gonzalez-Rivera explained, state and federal financial aid programs use highly specific definitions of what exactly constitutes a valid degree program and therefore what programs can qualify for financial aid. “It has to be 15 weeks, at least 600 semester hours, there’s all these technicals definitions,” he said. “The issue is that colleges are innovating in different ways that have nothing to with how long a student is actually sitting in a classroom.”

These innovations include online coursework, expanded course hours in the evening and on weekends, and year-round programs that expedite the length of the program while accommodating to working students’ schedules. Such programs and innovations cannot be effective if they don’t meet financial aid requirements, as many of the students who would be looking to take advantage are lower income and require financial assistance in order to pursue the programs at all.

This is where the intersections between nontraditional students and other issues such as race and socioeconomic status become clear. “Community colleges tend to be, especially for poorer students and students with many other responsibilities outside of school, the community colleges tend to be sort of their entry into higher education,” said Gonzalez-Rivera.

According to CUF, 66% of college-attending African-American students nationwide are enrolled at community college. For Latino students that number is 59%. “When it comes to people of color, lower-income people, the very people who really need that leg up to be able to compete in the labor force are the people who are being left behind by policies that have not kept up with the changing demographics,” Gonzalez-Rivera said.

To properly serve the growing nontraditional student population, CUF argues, community colleges must reform to find “ways to innovate so that students are able to get in, learn the skills that they need and get out very quickly.”

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

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Report Shows Barriers, Offers Solutions for Non-Traditional Higher-Ed Students Wed, 21 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000
CUNY's Insufficient Response to Military Veteran-Students http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6680:cuny-s-insufficient-response-to-military-veteran-students http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6680:cuny-s-insufficient-response-to-military-veteran-students CUNY military veterans banner 2009

photo via CUNY


The December 8 response from CUNY’s Interim Vice Chancellor Christopher Rosa to Joe Bello's Gotham Gazette op-ed of the day prior surprised many student-veterans on CUNY campuses -- including the ten signatories of this letter.

To begin with, we were not aware that CUNY actually recruits veterans to its campuses, as IVC Rosa asserted. From our experience, military veterans usually attend a CUNY school based on a campus location or a school’s specialization - degree programs, specialty programs like Veterans Upward Bound - and, most importantly, word of mouth from other veterans. None of us have seen any recruitment directed at veterans, either through advertising or social media, at our prior military commands or when we came to New York City.

Also, while CUNY does waive our application fees, it is not clear to us who are the “deployed, dedicated admissions counselors” who supposedly smooth our way through admission. For many, admission into the CUNY system is a long and arduous process and at no time did we meet counselors “deployed” to help us. If anything, many of us were referred to CUNY’s admissions website for veterans.

With regard to IVC Rosa stating that CUNY works to "assure that New Yorkers eligible for the Post 9/11 GI Bill attend 100 percent cost-free," the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs pays our tuition to the campuses based on our length and type of military service. This means that not every student-veteran, or eligible dependent, utilizing tuition assistance from the Department of Veteran Affairs is attending without a financial burden.

Furthermore, we question IVC Rosa’s statement that the “veterans services coordinators are a one-stop resource to support veterans in their transition from military life to higher education.” As Mr. Bello stated in his op-ed, Baruch College does not have a coordinator and other CUNY campuses currently have issues of harassment, alienation, and unresolved complaints lodged with their respective coordinators. These issues, as well as others on CUNY campuses, have led many student-veterans to help themselves to find the resources to support them in their transition.

Lastly, on IVC Rosa’s statement that CUNY was the first university system in America to be named “military friendly” by Victory Media: as several people testified at the November 15 City Council hearing, any college can obtain this designation by filling out a form that Victory Media provides. Case in point, over three semesters LaGuardia Community College has been engaged in a dispute with its student-veterans regarding their current coordinator, yet the school still received the “veteran friendly” designation, and even as that college’s student-veteran enrollment numbers have decreased. There seems to be no real mechanism in place by either Victory Media or CUNY to really know which institutions deserve the designation and which don't.

IVC Rosa states that “external rankings validate the welcoming environment at CUNY colleges for those who have served their country.” However, as individuals who have served this country and are currently pursuing degrees within the CUNY system, we have to ask: When will the ongoing battles of CUNY’s student-veteran population begin to be addressed by the leadership at CUNY?

IVC Rosa's letter appeared to be nothing more than an attempt to put a stop to the discussions that are currently going on between CUNY and its student-veterans, and his letter does not address the issues raised by Mr. Bello in his op-ed.

We want IVC Rosa and CUNY leadership to understand that while they state that CUNY cares about its student-veterans, many campuses do not have the necessary resources to allow our successful transition from military to higher education. Therefore, we are demanding that the Board of Trustees and CUNY leadership take action to make CUNY live up to its “military friendly” designation. If not, then all that we -- as skilled, hard-working and experienced student-veterans -- bring to our CUNY campuses, including our federal dollars, can be taken elsewhere.

Trent Coyle
US Army, Baruch College

Sungin Hong
USMC, Baruch College

Melissa Siew
USMC, Baruch College

Christian Espada
US Army, Bronx Community College

Margie Guzman
US Army, Bronx Community College

Noah Almonor
US Army, City College

Ishmael Shalom
USMC, John Jay College

Bryan Williams
USCG, John Jay College

Kevin Chimilio
USMC, Lehman College

Ricky Malone
USCG, Queens College

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CUNY's Insufficient Response to Military Veteran-Students Tue, 20 Dec 2016 05:00:00 +0000