Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/995 Fri, 22 Mar 2019 20:40:14 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) 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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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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

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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
While Calling for CUNY Investigations, Cuomo Sought Endorsements from College Presidents http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/6987-while-calling-for-cuny-investigations-cuomo-sought-endorsements-from-college-presidents http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/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
For Tuition Aid Boost to be Meaningful, CUNY Needs New Investment http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6827-for-tuition-aid-boost-to-be-meaningful-cuny-needs-new-investment http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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/130-opinion/6698-cuomo-s-tuition-free-plan-must-be-more-inclusive http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/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/state/6684-report-shows-barriers-offers-solutions-for-non-traditional-higher-ed-students http://www.gothamgazette.com/state/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
Unfinished Business: Governor’s Higher Ed Budget Leaves Trail of Uncertainty http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6306-unfinished-business-governor-s-higher-ed-budget-leaves-trail-of-uncertainty http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6306-unfinished-business-governor-s-higher-ed-budget-leaves-trail-of-uncertainty cuomo suny 2020

Cuomo & SUNY 2020 (photo via The Governor's Office on flickr)


In the height of political chaos across the country, New Yorkers have much to be proud of: our state recently increased the minimum wage and signed paid family leave into law in this year's budget, major contributions toward shared prosperity for all. This is certainly in large part because of Governor Cuomo’s strong leadership.

However, this year’s higher education budget is a mixed bag for New Yorkers, leaving many unfinished items on the table and a trail of uncertainty for years to come.

Governor Cuomo has positioned himself as a hero, the leader who saved our state from political gridlock and dysfunction and delivered for New York families and students. But let’s set the record straight - after the governor introduced his proposed budget in January, it was our students who organized and fought back and our Legislature that held the line against the governor’s unnecessarily austere higher education budget.

We should all celebrate the victories we achieved this budget cycle. Among them are a one-year tuition freeze at SUNY and CUNY, which comes after five years of annual $300 tuition hikes. We also achieved an increase in funding for the state’s educational opportunity programs and for full-time students at our community colleges. Advocates also successfully blocked Governor Cuomo’s planned $485 million state disinvestment to CUNY -- a third of the operating budgets for CUNY’s senior colleges.

Yet, when it comes to ensuring that New York puts higher education access and quality first, these successes are incremental at best.

The state has used tuition dollars to fill funding gaps by raising tuition, thereby shifting the cost to New York families for years. This is part of the governor’s SUNY 2020 Rational Tuition Policy, scheduling annual tuition hikes of $300, totaling $1,500 over five years, which expires at the end of this academic year. How a $1,500 increase could be considered “rational” policy is beyond comprehension.

Furthermore, it’s concerning that the FY 2017 budget did not provide the roughly $100 million to SUNY and CUNY that would have come from continued tuition increases, which after years of disinvestment further starves the universities and threatens their ability to ensure quality, affordable education for New York students.

A one-year freeze should be the first step to rolling back these hikes and strengthening state investment in public higher education.

All of this has taken place as the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), the key tool to help families pay for college, remains grossly out of date. In fact, the governor’s pervasive funding cuts have created a shortfall for the first time in the program’s 40-year history. What’s worse, the program currently requires that, when a student qualifies for it, SUNY and CUNY must use their operating budget to make up the funding difference between the maximum TAP award and tuition, taking away resources to provide other support services.

This also leaves hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers to fill on their own the gaps that TAP used to cover. Currently, the maximum TAP award is stuck at $5,165 while tuition at CUNY is $6,330 and at SUNY is $6,470, creating a gap of more than $1,100 depending on where you go. This is estimated to cost CUNY $50 million in the next year alone.

The state needs to increase and index the maximum TAP award with tuition and make the structural changes necessary to ensure true access for all New York students. This includes opening TAP up to part-time and undocumented students.

Another broken promise is New York’s funding commitment made through the SUNY 2020 plan, which required the state to provide SUNY and CUNY baseline funding levels that would also cover mandatory cost increases, also known as Maintenance of Effort (MOE). Late last year, Governor Cuomo vetoed a MOE bill, which passed through the Legislature with bipartisan support, saying it’s a budget issue. The governor neglected to include it in this year’s executive budget, and it wasn’t included in the final budget deal either, continuing to cost the universities money that could go to lowering tuition, restoring classes cut in tough budget times, and providing support services to students.

The state’s budget deal also comes at the immediate expense of the CUNY faculty, members of which haven’t had a pay raise or contract in nearly six years, threatening CUNY’s ability to attract and keep the talent necessary to provide a competitive and high-quality education in a 21st century economy. Funding for a final contract deal should be reached before the state legislative session ends in June.

With New York’s $147 billion budget and GDP of $1.4 trillion – as much as the country of Spain – our state higher education system should be leading the nation. And it certainly shouldn’t disguise disinvestment as short-term freezes and temporary fixes, particularly when it comes to quality, affordable postsecondary opportunities.

How the governor and the state Legislature address the unfinished business outlined above over the course of this session, and the session following the November elections, will be the true test of how our leaders and lawmakers value access and opportunity at the people’s university.

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Kevin Stump is Northeast Director of Young Invincibles. YI sits on the Steering Committee of the CUNY Rising Alliance.
OnTwitter @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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Unfinished Business: Governor’s Higher Ed Budget Leaves Trail of Uncertainty Wed, 27 Apr 2016 04:00:00 +0000
CUNY Faculty’s Lost Decade & The Risk Ahead http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6228-cuny-facultys-lost-decade-a-the-risk-ahead http://www.gothamgazette.com/130-opinion/6228-cuny-facultys-lost-decade-a-the-risk-ahead PSC CUNY Albany protest

PSC CUNY rally in Albany (photo: Emma Powell


The faculty at the City University of New York has lost a decade. Salaries at CUNY have been frozen since the October 2010 expiration of our contract and even before that they failed to keep pace with inflation. In 2015, assistant and associate professors at the top salary step earned 92% in real terms of what they earned in 2006. Full professors at the top step did slightly better, taking home just under 96% of their 2006 salaries.

Since the contract expired, living costs in New York have risen 7.6%. Food is up 10.9%, rent 15.8%, and medical care 18.2%. Tenured full professors like me feel this on a daily basis as we struggle to balance our families’ budgets. But we’re the lucky ones.

Adjunct faculty do much of the heavy lifting at CUNY, teaching more than half of all classes, and for salaries that can be less than $3,000 per course, with little job security. In return for this paltry wage, they run classes, grade papers, and hold office hours for students. The adjuncts are the sorriest victims of the salary freeze, with many commuting frantically from one campus to another — from the Bronx to Staten Island — in an exhausting struggle to survive and to preserve a toehold in the academy and a professional identity. No wonder CUNY campuses are plastered with posters decrying “adjunct poverty.”

cuny inflation

Students too suffer from budget cuts. Fewer courses are offered in their majors, lengthening time-to-degree. Adjuncts may not have a base at any campus and are often unavailable to meet with students or to write recommendations needed for graduate school applications. Regular faculty have to perform tasks that elsewhere are assigned to support staff, such as shopping for food for student receptions or entering course registrations in the unwieldy CUNYFirst computer. This means they have less time to advise students or to write grants that bring CUNY much-needed overhead.

CUNY has been the great equalizer, fueling upward mobility for generations of New Yorkers. Today its 24 campuses enroll 275,000 degree students and another 247,000 continuing students — some 6% of the city’s population. CUNY rightfully boasts that 40% of undergraduates were born abroad, 44% are first-generation Americans, and 42% are the first generation college students. More than half come from households earning less than $30,000 a year. Eight out of ten Latino and African-American undergraduates in the city go to CUNY schools.

CUNY remains a pillar of New York’s economy. It grants more than one-third of business degrees awarded by New York City institutions and trains one-third of the city’s teachers and many of the nurses and technicians in local hospitals. In a city where luxury condos and billionaire towers sprout like mushrooms, CUNY’s $2.7 billion capital program accounts for 20% of total construction, generating 14,000 jobs. Students at 300 high schools take courses through CUNY’s College Now program.

Why does a university that makes such an immense contribution to the city freeze its faculty pay? After five years of negotiations, management made its first salary proposal, offering three years of retroactive zero percent increases, subsequent hikes totaling 6%, and an expiration date of October 2016, a mere eight months from now. The union rejected this below-inflation “raise.”

CUNY Chancellor James Milliken and several CUNY college presidents have made tepid declarations in favor of resolving the standoff. The real obstacle is in Albany, where Governor Andrew Cuomo’s unremitting hostility to teachers’ unions extends to CUNY faculty and workers.

In 2011, Cuomo launched SUNY 2020, a program of challenge grants for capital projects and policies he argued would lead to instructional innovation and hiring at all the state’s public universities, including CUNY. The plan required that students pay $300 more each year for five years and pledged that the state wouldn’t reduce support for CUNY. Legislators voted for the hikes believing they would generate revenue to improve academic and student-support services at CUNY. Since 2012, however, the state — the source of most of CUNY’s budget — has failed to cover cost increases for rent, utilities, equipment, fringe benefits and contractual salary steps.

State revenues rose 5.6% in 2015, but in December Cuomo vetoed a bill that would have required the state to fund such increases. In January, he signed an executive action raising the minimum wage for SUNY workers to $15 an hour, but excluded state workers at CUNY. Also in January, the governor tried to shift $485 million of CUNY’s budget from the state to the city. Currently, the city funds about 30% of CUNY community colleges and the state funds CUNY senior colleges, an arrangement in place since the mid-1970s.

To Cuomo’s credit, his 2017 proposed budget includes $240 million for agreements with CUNY unions. But the $240 million is contingent on the $485 million cut in state funding. Even if the money for retroactive pay survives in the Legislature, the amount is insufficient to restore adequate salaries for faculty and other CUNY workers.

CUNY is used to crisis and austerity, with a $51 million shortfall last year and across-the-board cuts now of 3% at senior colleges. Per pupil funding is 17.4% below 2008 in inflation-adjusted terms. Top administrators’ salaries continue to climb, so the budget is balanced on the backs of faculty, workers, and students, who pay rising tuition for an education that is ever harder to deliver.

This is penny-wise and pound-foolish. CUNY’s 6,700 full-time faculty members include world-renowned experts in every field. Each year they win millions of dollars in grants, author thousands of scientific papers, and mentor new generations of informed citizens. Many depart for better jobs elsewhere. Those who remain work more years at top salary steps than they otherwise would simply to accumulate enough retirement savings. It is increasingly difficult to recruit scholars to the lowest-paid faculty in one of the country’s highest cost-of-living regions, and it is usually impossible to replace professors who leave or retire.

The neglect of CUNY exacerbates inequality, deprives hundreds of thousands of students the education they deserve, and lessens New York’s competitiveness in the global economy. New Yorkers need to decide if they want to invest in the future of their city and, if so, make sure that our elected leaders know.

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Marc Edelman is professor of anthropology at Hunter College and the CUNY Graduate Center.

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

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CUNY Faculty’s Lost Decade & The Risk Ahead Thu, 17 Mar 2016 21:19:39 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, December 7 http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/6020-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-dec-7 http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/6020-the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-dec-7 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


 ***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Monday
On Monday, Mayor Bill de Blasio will attend the memorial service for John E. Zuccotti. At 12:30 p.m., "the Mayor will deliver remarks at NYPD's Clergy All-In Conference at One Police Plaza." At about 2:45 p.m. at the Staten Island South Shore YMCA, "the Mayor and First Lady Chirlane McCray will host a press conference to make an announcement related to substance misuse."

On Monday morning in Albany, leading experts on the New York State Constitution and the prospects for a Constitutional Convention will hold a media “boot camp.” The event will include Gerald Benjamin of SUNY New Paltz; constitutional scholars Christopher Bopst and Peter Galie; Richard Brodsky, senior fellow at Demos and former Assembly member; and Henry M. Greenberg, chair of the New York State Bar Association’s Committee on the New York State Constitution and former counsel to the New York State attorney general. “The event is sponsored by the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government of the State University of New York, New York State Bar Association, Government Law Center of Albany Law School, state League of Women Voters, Siena Research Institute and New York News Publishers Association.” 

On Monday at 10 a.m. at City Hall, the push for Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) intensifies: “Public Advocate Letitia James, Council Member Donovan Richards, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and the “BRT For NYC” Coalition will co-host a press conference to announce increased community support for bringing high-quality bus rapid transit to Queens. The “BRT For NYC” Coalition will be represented by ABNY, NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, New York League of Conservation Voters, Pratt Center for Community Development, Riders Alliance, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Transportation Alternatives, Transit Workers Union Local 100, and Working Families Party. Bus riders and members of the Queens community will also be in attendance.” [Read our recent look at the issue: All Abord the BRT Express?]

At the City Council on Monday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Finance will meet to discuss a bill about expanding the Metrotech Area Business Improvement District.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Rules, Privileges and Elections will meet, agenda TBD.
  • At 1:30 a.m. on Monday, the City Council will have a Stated Meeting, prefaced as always by the Speaker’s pre-stated press conference, set for 12:30 p.m.

At noon, before the Council’s stated meeting, there will be a rally at City Hall to unveil “First-of-its-kind NYC Council legislation to be unveiled cracking down on deadbeat companies that stiff the city’s 1.3 million.” Members of the Freelancers Union, other labor reps including from the UFT and 32BJ, other activists, and several City Council members led Brad Lander, Laurie Cumbo, Rafael Espinal, Steve Levin, and Margaret Chin will hold a rally at the steps of City Hall to pass legislation protecting New York City’s freelancers. [Read our recent look at the issue: City Council Developing New Protections for Workers in ‘Gig’ Economy

As the week begins, City Council Member Jumaane Williams is in Washington, DC from Sunday to Tuesday “attending the Joint Center for Political & Economic Studies' bi-annual Roundtable Discussion being held at George Washington Law School.” It is a conference “for a select group of 25 elected officials of color from across the nation will feature discussions regarding policy innovations.”

At the State Legislature on Monday: at 11 a.m., the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation and the Assembly Climate Change Work Group will hold a joint hearing on climate change.

On Monday at noon, The New York City Bar Association is hosting a “Lunch and Public Policy Discussion” with Gale A. Brewer, Manhattan Borough President.

On Monday at 5:30 p.m. at Queens Borough Hall, “The Queens Borough Board, chaired by Borough President Katz, will hear details from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation (NYC Parks) Commissioner Mitchell J. Silver, FAICP about the department’s new “Parks Without Borders” program, which aims to make New York City public parks more open, welcoming, and beautiful by focusing on improving park entrances and edges, and park-adjacent spaces.”

Monday at 7 p.m. at The New School, “Politics and Policy: The Latino Vote and The 2016 US Presidential Election” with City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, among others, offering “a fresh examination of the role of Latinos in the 2016 election. Featuring a panel of journalists, pollsters, and political insiders, we’ll explore political, demographic and economic trends that will shape the outcome in 2016.” The event is organized by Feet in 2 Worlds, The Center for New York City Affairs and the Milano School.

On Monday at 8 p.m., city Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks "at West Side Federation of Neighborhood and Block Associations Annual Holiday Party."

Tuesday
At the City Council on Tuesday: at 10 a.m., the Committee on Public Safety will meet to discuss two bills related to New York City crossing guard deployment.

At the New York State Legislature on Tuesday:

  • At 10 a.m. in Manhattan, a joint committee hearing on Daily Fantasy Sports in New York will be held by the Assembly Standing Committee on Racing and Wagering, the Assembly Standing Committee on Consumer Affairs and Protection, and the Assembly Legislative Commission on Administrative Regulations Review.
  • At 10:30 a.m. in Albany, a joint committee hearing about law-enforcement officials using body cameras will be held by the Assembly Standing Committee on Codes, the Assembly Standing Committee on Judiciary, and the Assembly Standing Committee on Governmental Operations.

Beginning at 8 a.m. Tuesday, a “Public Projects Forum” hosted by City & State NY will have Noam Bramson, Mayor of New Rochelle, NY; Reginald Spinello, Mayor of Glen Cove, NY; Commissioner Feniosky Pena-Mora, NYC Department of Design & Construction; and Holly Leicht, Regional Administrator, Housing & Urban Development; speak about the upcoming public projects in the tristate area.

On Tuesday at 9:30 a.m. at Queens Borough Hall, “The Queens Borough Cabinet, chaired by Borough President Melinda Katz, will hear a briefing from the New York City Police Department (NYPD) on its current counterterrorism efforts in light of recent events in this county and abroad. The briefing will include a review of new counterterrorism technologies employed by the NYPD. In addition, the Fire Department of New York’s (FDNY’s) Fire Education Safety Team will deliver a presentation on how City residents can best keep their homes safe during the holiday season. Also, the Mayor’s Office of Technology and Innovation will deliver a presentation on the implementation of the Neighborhoods.nyc domain, which has launched nearly 400 online hubs for civic engagement, information sharing and economic development.” 

Wednesday
At 10 a.m. Wednesday, The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce Quarterly Chairman's Breakfast will take on the presidential transition and the need for the most carefully planned transition in United States history in anticipation of January 20, 2017. [Read an op-ed on the subject from Manhattan Chamber of Commerce Chair Ken Biberaj and David Eagles of Partnership for Public Service: Let’s Be Prepared for America’s Biggest Corporate Takeover

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Health will meet to discuss a bill to create two new health-focused city government bodies and another that would require the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene “to post a New York City map on its website of the clinics they run, comprehensive care and primary care facilities run by the Health and Hospitals Corporation, voluntary non-profit and publicly sponsored diagnostic and treatment centers, and federally qualified health centers.”
  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on General Welfare will hold an oversight hearing on the city’s efforts to address “the homelessness crisis.” [Read our recent look at issues related to how and where homeless shelters are sited.]
  • At 1 p.m., the Committees on Aging and Finance will meet for a joint oversight hearing on the city’s “efforts to conduct outreach” and boost registration for the Rent Freeze Program; and on a new a bill that would “require the Department of Finance to include a notification regarding preferential rent on certain documents related to the NYC Rent Freeze Program.”
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Civil Rights will meet to discuss four bills regarding the city’s human rights law.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Immigration will have an oversight hearing about “Resources Available in New York City for Unaccompanied Minors.”

At the New York State Legislature on Wednesday:

  • At noon in Manhattan, the Assembly Standing Committees on Labor and Small Business as well as the Assembly Commission on Skills Development and Careers Education will hold a joint oversight hearing on the state’s apprenticeship programs.
  • At 1 p.m. in Albany, the Assembly Standing Committee on Real Property Taxation will hold an oversight hearing on the 2015-2016 budget plan.

Thursday
At the City Council on Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., the Committee on Housing and Buildings meet on three bills. The first would create a Department of Buildings-headed task force that would assess the dangers posed by construction sites to motorists and pedestrians and submit recommendations to the City Council and mayor about measures proposed to minimize the hazard. The other two bills would raise penalties for working without a permit and for violating stop work directives.
  • At 10:30 a.m., the Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will review two land use applications.
  • At 11 a.m., the Committee on Land Use will review five applications.
  • At 1 p.m., the Committee on Civil Service and Labor and the Committee on Higher Education will have a joint oversight hearing on “Establishing the Murphy Institute as a new CUNY School of Labor and Urban Studies.”

At the New York State Legislature on Thursday: at 10:30 a.m. in Manhattan, the Assembly Standing Committee on Election Law and the Assembly Standing Subcommittee on Election Day Operations and Voter Disenfranchisement will hold a joint oversight hearing about “Enhancing the voter experience, preventing voter disenfranchisement and improving emergency voting protocols.”

At 8:30 a.m. at Civic Hall on Thursday, Scott Stringer’s Red Tape Commission will meet in Manhattan to hear suggestions from small business owners and others.

On Thursday, the Staten Island Borough Board is expected to vote on Mayor de Blasio's two rezoning amendment proposals. It will be the fifth borough to do so - the other four have voted against them, sometimes with lists of conditions that the advisory boards would like to see made to revised proposals.

At 4 p.m. Thursday, the New York City Campaign Finance Board holds a “New to the CFB” session.

At 6 p.m. Thursday: “Power Lines: Race, Class, The City & Its Schools,” a discussion about segregation in New York City schools.

Friday and the weekend
At the New York State Legislature on Friday: at 10:30 a.m. in Manhattan, a hearing of the Assembly Standing Committee on Tourism, Parks, Arts and Sports Development regarding “Injuries in combative sports.”

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer is launching a Manhattan Youth Council, and is holding an initial information session on Friday afternoon at her offices. “High school students from across Manhattan are invited to meet and talk with Borough President Gale Brewer about the issues that matter most to you...Young people who live, work, or attend school in Manhattan can sign up here.”

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Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

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by Konstantine Beridze, Ryan Brady, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, December 7 Sun, 06 Dec 2015 21:57:46 +0000
Spurred by Buffalo Billion, Reformers Look to Fix State Business Subsidies http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5940-spurred-by-buffalo-billion-reformers-look-to-fix-state-business-subsidies http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5940-spurred-by-buffalo-billion-reformers-look-to-fix-state-business-subsidies Cuomo Buffalo thank you

Cuomo in Buffalo (photo: Governor's Office via flickr)


United States Attorney Preet Bharara's attention has been drawn away from his normal stomping grounds to Buffalo, intrigued by what critics say is a shadowy network of state authorities and state-controlled non-profits handing out large business subsidies and contracts with little to no oversight.

Watchdogs say that Gov. Andrew Cuomo, through SUNY Polytechnic head Alain Kaloyeros, is essentially rewarding campaign donors with major contracts while using state cash to win political favor in economically-depressed areas. That sense has been exacerbated by a forceful push back against transparency by both the Cuomo administration and Kaloyeros.

Last legislative session the renewal of the 421-A tax break for real estate developers was the center of debate over business subsidies thanks to Bharara's indictments of former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos. Both face corruption charges stemming from their involvement with a major donor who sought renewal of the tax break.

But Bharara's interest in Buffalo Billion has shifted the gaze of some reformers and legislators to discretionary subsidies that are controlled by the Governor. At the heart of the U.S. Attorney's investigation appears to be requests for proposals written in a way to ensure one company, led by a major donor to the governor, would win the lucrative contract at stake.

"We believe many of these programs are out of control," said John Kaehny of Reinvent Albany, a group that has been focused on these subsidies. Kaehny said the programs have been "generally wasteful and driven more by pay-to-play or interest in providing local pork than derived from sound public policy."

Kaehny, a number of other reformers, and a small group of legislators want to pull back the curtain on these deals and create a system of true accountability that would show how contracts are awarded, how many jobs the contracts create, and how much state money is spent per job. Kaehny isn't exactly holding his breath, though, because he believes the current system was designed specifically to obfuscate and confuse.

"We do not see any reasonable motivation for the convoluted governance structure created by the governor other than to avoid oversight," Kaehny told Gotham Gazette. Kaehny said Cuomo has "created a legal fiction" involving SUNY Research Foundation and the Fort Schuyler Management Corporation, which sign contracts "on behalf of" state agencies like SUNY Poly. The state funnels money for a number of programs from Empire State Development Corporation, a state-run authority that has virtually no legislative or public oversight.

"Funding also comes from theoretically independent state authorities like NYSERDA and the Power Authority, which are told by the governor to provide money, power and land to SUNY Poly, which then gives resources away to select businesses," said Kaehny. "We believe this complexity is a deliberate effort to avoid transparency and accountability by the governor."

Some lawmakers are in the early stages of exploring legislative changes to how the state approves business subsidies. A few of them have been motivated by an Investigative Post report that the Cuomo administration dropped requirements to hire workers of color in one Buffalo Billion contract from 25 to 15 percent.

Others have been troubled by Cuomo's efforts to entice General Electric (GE) to move its headquarters back to the state. So far Cuomo has refused to detail what kind of incentives he has offered the company. Some legislators are concerned the company has yet to make good on its pledge to clean up the PCBs it poured into the Hudson River years ago and that its headquarters would have no economic benefit for the state.

"We have a real problem in New York with learning from history," said Ron Deutsch of the Fiscal Policy Institute. He said that New York has given businesses like GE, IBM, and Globalfoundries major incentives only to see them cut jobs, or move overseas. "We do nothing to hold anyone accountable" in the end, he said.

Cuomo has made it clear in conversations with the press that he sees no reason to scrutinize the Buffalo Billion program. Asked if he thought any procedures needed to be changed because of the investigation, Cuomo responded: "Do you know if there was any problem? No. If you knew there was a problem, then you would fix the problem. But we don't know any problem."

Good Jobs First, a national policy group that tracks business subsidies, actually rated New York 8th out of all 50 states on transparency for subsidy disclosures in a report released in January of last year.

Another study by the group found that New York spends more on "megadeals" than any other state. Megadeals are defined as subsidy agreements with businesses that cost $75 million or more. The 2013 report by Good Jobs First found that New York had spent $11.4 billion on such deals from 1984 to 2013.

When asked where New York's subsidy programs rank overall compared to other states, Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, replied, "Pick your metric."

SUNY Poly issued the following statement:

"In fact, neither SUNY Poly nor its affiliates have ever been in a position to unilaterally approve a single Buffalo project, including Buffalo project contracts or expenditures. The New York State system simply does not allow it. There are checks and balances at every step, layers of state oversight, internal and external audits, public hearings, public board meetings, and public votes."

So what can be done to prevent both the appearance and the reality of conflicts of interest; restore transparency and confidence in the system; and make sure someone is accountable for the way billions of dollars of taxpayer money is spent? Reformers have some suggestions.

One simple reform would be to ban businesses that win subsidies from donating large amounts to elected officials. The state need only look to New York City to see an effective model. In 2007, then City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Mayor Michael Bloomberg reached a campaign financing deal that drastically reduced the amount any government contractor or group with business before the city can give to any campaign.

"Even the appearance of conflict of interest is a problem," said Deutsch, of the Fiscal Policy Institute.

Another piece of the puzzle could be eliminating the LLC loophole so that businesses cannot create multiple fronts to pour cash into the campaign coffers of state electeds.

To enhance transparency, advocates say the convoluted route by which money goes from the state to businesses needs to be simplified.

Kaehny said he wants to see the Empire State Development Corporation become a one-stop shop for business subsidies. Preventing state-controlled non-profits from distributing state funds would theoretically increase transparency by streamlining the decision-making process.

Both the Comptroller and Attorney General do have some oversight capabilities, but the Comptroller had some authority stripped away in 2011 by a bill that limited the office's ability to audit SUNY and CUNY as well as its hospitals and construction funds. Fort Schuyler and SUNY Poly have led the distribution of Buffalo Billion funds.

DiNapoli noted the situation during a recent appearance on WCNY's Capitol Pressroom with Susan Arbetter. "Our authority in some of these areas was curtailed a few years ago," DiNapoli said. "We complained about that at the time."

Kaehny said he wants to see the Comptroller and the Attorney General push publically on the issue of transparency. It isn't totally obvious how hard the Comptroller has been pushing for this information or not. If we had a right-wing Republican in the office I'm fairly sure we would see someone pushing relentlessly and using their bully pulpit when they weren't given the answers," Kaehny said, referring to the fact that all of the statewide offices are controlled by Democrats.

"The Comptroller could speak up clearly and directly and say: 'Here is what we don't know. Here are the dark spots. Here is where we see these structures created to defeat transparency,'" Kaehny said.

Still, many calling for change would like the Comptroller's office to have complete oversight over all subsidy deals.

One final, and perhaps farfetched possibility would be creating a State Independent Budget Office in the model of New York City's that would actually weigh the risks and possible rewards of highly nuanced tech and other business deals so that legislators and the public would understand where state money may be going. Deutsch said that someone needs to start asking a basic question: "How much is a job worth?"

The Cuomo administration has repeatedly stated that the Buffalo Billion will create 14,000 reliable jobs and attract $8 billion in investment as a result of the roughly $1 billion state expenditure.

It seems unlikely any of the reforms being discussed to the subsidy process will pick up steam in an election year, especially as Albany waits to see if Bharara's investigation leads to criminal charges.

"There are simple solutions," said Kaehny, "but they are very hard to get done because there is no will."

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by David King, Albany editor, Gotham Gazette
@DavidHowardKing

Note: this article has been updated with a clarification from John Kaehny that Reinvent Albany beieves "many," not "most," of the subsidy programs are "out of control"

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Spurred by Buffalo Billion, Reformers Look to Fix State Business Subsidies Mon, 19 Oct 2015 00:37:47 +0000