Despite brick-and-mortar signs of renewal, there is a
quiet crisis in
higher education in New York City. It is what I call
the permanent recession.
In looking at the last decade, the Higher Education
Price Index - the cost of buying the services and
goods that colleges purchase - has gone up 34 percent.
But in the same period, New York State's support for
operating expenses of public institutions of higher
education increased only 21 percent. The result:
Quality has been impaired. There are fewer fulltime
faculty, deteriorating facilities, out-of-date
technology, increased class size. With fewer course
sections, it takes students more
time to graduate.
In New York a large
number of private institutions compete for students with public colleges and universities. These private schools are also feeling the pressure, despite average
annual tuition that is now over $20,000.
In a recent 50-state "report card" on higher education
by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher
Education , New York
received an F for affordability of its colleges and
universities. Even with New York's sizeable Tuition
Assistance Program, the percentage of family income
needed to pay for college here remains quite high. In
addition, New York got only a C+ on the report card
for "participation." Substantial gaps remain in the
representation of individuals from diverse racial and
ethnic groups and from low income groups in attending
and completing college.
The governor is the chief policymaker for higher
education, both public and private. In the past,
former Governor Nelson Rockefeller was at the
forefront of support for both public and private
colleges in the state, with a particular focus on the
expansion of the State University of New York. At the
time -- after World War II, and especially in the
1960s-- most people believed that higher education was
a public benefit, that all New Yorkers would be served
by an increase in its capacity as well as an easing of
access to higher education.
This view seems to have been replaced by a personal
benefit model, perhaps fed in part by the increased
earning power that higher education provides
individuals. The personal benefit model promotes
increased tuition and therefore increased debt as
students and their families pay an ever increasing
percentage of the costs of college attendance.
Governor George Pataki's leadership has been
particularly problematic, though school officials
rarely say this on the record. The inordinately
delayed state budget process makes it much more
difficult for both public and private colleges to plan
their academic years in an orderly way. Approval of
the capital plans for needed facilities improvements
as well as aid to community colleges still remain
The most responsive policymakers for higher education
may well be the members of New York City Council,
particularly in their support of the City University
of New York and its students.
The fall semester has arrived with more than the usual
bustle and excitement.
Though last year was an unusually tough one,
especially at City University because of state budget
cuts and a particularly large tuition increase, this
academic year promises to be better.
But don't be fooled. Yes, state and city aid to CUNY
each rose by over nine percent, but buried in state
support was a $65 per student reduction in funding -
and there is concern about funding restrictions later
this year. Yes, City University has started a push for
hiring new fulltime faculty, but the numbers of
fulltime faculty remain down dramatically from three
decades ago. And while higher education has been
documented as a growth industry that could be an
engine of New York's economic future, threats of yet
more public disinvestment appear down the road. The
recession in higher education in New York is like a
chronic cough; there may be an occasional respite,
but, given current conditions, it is sure to persist.
Frederick S. Lane is professor of public affairs at
Baruch College of The City University of New York,
where he teaches a graduate course in The
Administration of the Urban University. The opinions
expressed here are his own.
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