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Citizens Union

Higher Education, Lower Budget

Like nearly every institution in New York, the City University of New York was damaged by the events of September 11. There were 111 students or alumni from John Jay College who died in the attack on the World Trade Center, and 81 from the College of Staten Island. The Borough of Manhattan Community College, two blocks away from Ground Zero, shut down for three weeks, one of its buildings destroyed, the other taken over by rescue teams as a command center. When the school finally reopened, 1,300 of its students decided not to return.

But the personal tragedies and the physical damage were not the only ways that City University has been affected. The university's fiscal well-being, already precarious, was further weakened by the attack.

It is a terrible irony that, in addition to the jolt that the Borough of Manhattan Community College suffered because of the events of September 11, it will also be asked to cut spending by more than four million dollars. This will mean a reduction in teaching staff, which will cause the cancellation of some classes, which will result in even fewer students. Fewer students mean less money in state tuition aid. So, Antonio Perez, the president, estimates his college will lose an additional $20 million in tuition and tuition aid as students leave the school -- not just because of the World Trade Center tragedy, but now because of the cutbacks.


CUNY has an incredible record of success. Nine of its doctoral programs are ranked in the top 20 in the nation. The John Jay College of Criminal Justice graduate program ranks number one in the nation, and Baruch's School of Business and Hunter's School of Social Work are highly rated. Numerous faculty members have won national prizes.

Above all, CUNY is the place of opportunity for the poor and working people of New York. Students who graduate from CUNY are able to become productive citizens with jobS paying taxes, buying homes and raising children in the city.


But the excellence of the City University of New York has not swayed public officials when it comes to the budget. In August, the state legislature passed a bare-bones budget that gave $733.2 million to the City University of New York, down from a billion dollars ten years ago, and an increase of only $2.9 million in state aid from last year. (This included a cut of $4.9 million for the senior colleges and an increase of $7.8 million for the community colleges.) Chancellor Matthew Goldstein had already been lobbying to restore funding to CUNY's senior colleges. Then, on September 11, the situation got much worse. Projections for state revenues for the year spiraled down, and the state supplemental budget that has just been passed did not include CUNY. Because of declining revenues, the mayor has asked most city programs to cut spending by 15 percent during this fiscal year.

These cuts come on top of cutbacks handed to CUNY since the fiscal crisis in the mid 1970s. From 1980 to 1997, CUNY funding from the state decreased 40 percent in constant dollars. In the 1990s, New York State ranked last in the country in the percentage increase in state and local funding for higher education, according to the National Center for Public Policy in Higher Education,

The cuts have had a powerful effect. Between the years 1976 and 2000, the full-time CUNY faculty was reduced by half, from 11,268 to 5,594, so that 60 percent of all classes are now taught by part-time faculty. Tuition increased by 93 percent from 1988 to 1997, putting it above the national average for public universities.

The 11 senior colleges and graduate programs of CUNY are supported by the state, while the six community colleges and the associate degree programs at four senior colleges are funded principally by the city. Because of this funding arrangement, the senior colleges, while not protected from state funding reductions, have been protected from city cuts.

The six community colleges have not been so fortunate and have suffered from city cutbacks throughout the Giuliani administration. In 1990, the city provided 43 percent of the funding for operating costs at the community colleges. It now provides only 21 percent. The difference has been made up by raising tuition. It is now $2,500 a year for a full-time student.


While the mayor recognized the importance of primary and secondary education and assigned only a 2.5 percent cut to the school system, he failed to give the CUNY community colleges a similar reprieve from his 15 percent across-the-board cuts. This means the community colleges will have to cut spending by $19.2 million this year.

These cutbacks will leave CUNY less able to offer the education that New Yorkers need.

Lynne Weikart, an associate professor at Baruch College School of Public Affairs, teaches budgeting and financial management.

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