Gotham Gazette Thu, 16 Jul 2020 14:11:21 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) CUNY Responds to Federal Directive Targeting International Students, Soon Thereafter Rescinded by Trump Administration CUNY students

CUNY students (photo: CUNY)

UPDATE: Not long after the publication of this article, the Trump administration rescinded the directive at hand regarding international students, visas, and remote learning. “This is welcome news for more than 100,000 international students in New York, more than one million students across the country, and millions of additional families across the world,” said New York Attorney General Letitia James, who had filed suit. See more background below:

CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez released a statement on Friday, July 10 that confirmed some in-person instruction for the fall semester as long as state and university guidelines are met, which he said will partially benefit the public university system’s over 9,000 international students.

Rodríguez mentioned that CUNY had already scheduled almost half of its Fall 2020 courses for hybrid or fully-online instruction, a schedule it will build out in the coming weeks and said the schools plan to offer in-person instruction for science labs, theater, clinical placements, and performing and studio arts. Rodriguez said the CUNY Board of Trustees’ July 9 resolution gave the university more flexibility in making decisions, which tied into alternatives for those studying on visas whose status in the United States was under a new federal threat.

“We are also devising plans to help our international students in response to the misguided policy announced by Washington earlier this week,” said the chancellor. “The resolution approved by the Board last night also helps us in this matter by providing maximum latitude to offer them some degree of in-person instruction. We will leave no stone unturned to make sure our international students are able to stay and continue their studies at CUNY.”

On July 6, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, released modifications to the temporary exemptions for nonimmigrant students taking online classes because of the pandemic in the fall 2020 semester through their Student and Exchange Visitor Program, or SEVP. Nonimmigrant students have been approved to take more online courses in the spring and summer semesters than allowed by federal regulations due to COVID-19 safety guidelines. Now these students may not take a fully online course-load for the fall semester and remain in the United States, according to the announcement.

Members of the House of Representatives and Senate sent at least three letters to the Trump Administration to oppose the changes to SVEP. One letter with dozens of signatures from both houses addressed to leadership of ICE and the Department of Homeland Security said ICE’s guidance was “motivated not by public health considerations, but rather by animus toward immigrants, by a goal of forcing schools to reopen even as COVID-19 cases are rising, and by a desire to create an illusion of normalcy during this unprecedented public health emergency.”

On July 8, Harvard University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology filed a lawsuit against the Department of Homeland Security and ICE to instate a court order stopping the SVEP directive, which applies to students on F-1 and M-1 visas.

New York City, along with 26 other cities, counties and towns, filed an amicus brief in support of the two universities’ lawsuit, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced on Monday.  “This is yet another cruel and senseless immigration policy from the Trump Administration,” de Blasio said in a statement. “All students are welcome in New York City, and we will continue to ensure that our colleges and universities can reopen based on public health guidance, not threats from the President.”

The mayor’s office stressed that there are over 70,000 international students in New York City and said they “contribute $3.26 billion to the economy and support almost 36,000 jobs, according to NAFSA: Association of International Educators.”

Earlier Monday, New York State Attorney General Letitia James announced a separate suit against the Trump Administration for a preliminary injunction and temporary restraining order on the reversal of ICE policy from its guidelines during the coronavirus. Announcing her suit, she said the federal directive threatened the wellbeing of students and New York’s economy.

“International students should never be used as political fodder to force colleges to reopen their doors, but the president’s inability to remove politics from public health decisions endangers us all,” James said in a statement. “Schools should never have to choose between enrolling international students in in-person classes and maintaining public health, which is why we will use every legal tool at our disposal to stop the president.”

Schools in the city like Columbia University, which enrolls about 12,000 international students, and New York University, which enrolls the highest number of international students in the U.S. at over 19,600, condemned the announcement and said they would have advisors work with international students to have them enroll in hybrid courses, which offer some in-person and some remote learning, so they could remain in the country.

The CUNY Board of Trustees provided leeway for the chancellor’s announcement by voting on the continuance of the online and distance learning instructional modality. During the July 9 meeting, the board added two new sections to its resolution, which stated that “the preference of the university is to offer in-person instruction and services to students for the Fall 2020 semester where practicable and prudent,” but “in supplement to or in place of in-person instruction and services, online or remote instruction and services may become the preferred method of faculty and students, and may ultimately become necessary by order or by public health circumstances.” They also replaced the word “decision” with “preparation” in their reference to extend online learning, which softened their position towards the type of instruction they would offer.

Chancellor Rodríguez said this amended resolution by the Board of Trustees gave the CUNY system flexibility in planning the fall semester. In his Friday statement he also added the in-person classes and services must meet New York State and university guidelines for re-opening and the city must enter “phase four” of reopening based on state guidelines, which it appears on track to do this month.

Along with in-person classes, the chancellor said food pantries, child care, counseling centers, computer labs, and library services may also reopen. Gosia Kujawa, a sophomore at CUNY Hunter College and an international student from Poland, said she approved of the chancellor’s statement in light of ICE’s decision, although she is awaiting more specifics.

“While I am stressed by the lack of detailed information and knowledge of my college's plan, I am proud that my college wants to defend us against the discriminatory decision of ICE,” said Kujawa, who lives in the city by herself, in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “There is more than a month to the beginning of the fall semester, but I hope that our college authorities will not wait until the last moment to announce a detailed plan.” Kujawa said as a lesbian, she does not want to return to Poland because of a heightened anti-LGBTQ sentiment from the current administration under President Andrzej Duda.

Members of CUNY’s University Student Senate, or USS, had been placing pressure on CUNY to make a decision regarding fall instruction in light of the new ICE directive. On July 9 they held a press conference with Queens State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Manhattan Assemblymember Deborah Glick, who is the chair of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, to criticize the ICE directive. Several CUNY international students gave testimony on why they disapproved of the announcement and what it would mean for their education.

Nicole Agu, the USS vice chair of international affairs and a student from Nigeria, said lack of technology, tutoring, counseling, or other services will distress students who may have to return to their home countries for remote learning, along with whatever time difference they will contend with. Agu herself also dealt with relocating to a new dorm, losing her internship because of COVID-19, and food insecurity this past semester, on top of advocating for her peers to continue to study at CUNY.

“International students invested so much emotionally, academically, financially, to be here,” said Agu, who attends the College of Staten Island and majors in accounting and international business. “And I don’t see how the primary mission of ICE is related to international students being here ‘legally,’ it doesn’t make sense. All of this is just faulty logic.”

USS also called for more action from the university to help international students in a July 9 statement. The university student senate filed an amicus brief with 15 other universities in support of the Harvard and MIT lawsuit. Agu said she still wonders if professors who have international students will adapt their classes to a hybrid model or what specific steps CUNY will take if the courts decide to uphold the ICE policy during the new lawsuits, especially for those students who still reside in another country. Although she awaits a more detailed plan, Agu said she believes the university will come through.

“My final thought is CUNY will be ready and prepared to save these students regardless of the outcome,” Agu said.

In the Monday announcement from Mayor de Blasio’s office, the city’s Commissioner for the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant Affairs, Bitta Mostofi, said, “International students with questions should reach out to their designated school official for support. For connections to free, safe immigration legal help, students in New York City can call ActionNYC at 1-800-354-0365.”

by Melissa Lent, Gotham Gazette

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CUNY Responds to Federal Directive Targeting International Students, Soon Thereafter Rescinded by Trump Administration Mon, 13 Jul 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Governor, Legislature Must Take CUNY Cuts Off The Table cuny must cut

City College graduation of the past (photo: CUNY)

We cannot have a meaningful conversation about educational equity in New York City without calling attention to the deep funding cuts that the City University of New York (CUNY) is facing. For countless New Yorkers like myself, CUNY means access to an excellent public education and a path to career. Cutting CUNY resources flies in the face of the discussions we are having right now around racism, classism, and social justice.

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the State Legislature are weighing steep cuts to CUNY’s budget, and we need to be clear about exactly what those cuts would mean: reducing the quality of a public higher education system in New York that mainly serves historically-marginalized communities of color; 25% of CUNY undergraduate students identify as Black, 30% identify as Latino, and 60% receive Pell grant funding. Any discussion must meet the moment and be about what lawmakers can do to lift up institutions that serve all New Yorkers, particularly those that have educated thousands of young people of color for generations. 

I know why CUNY means equity because I’ve lived it; I’m one of over 200,000 students of color who attend CUNY schools every year. 

CUNY is led by Félix Matos Rodríguez, a champion for New York City college students and equity in education. He is well-known in the higher education community for his commitment to breaking down financial barriers for students from low-income backgrounds, as well as his appointments of senior leaders of color at CUNY. Under his leadership, many Black, Latino, and first-generation students have received life-changing educational opportunities and launching pads to careers of their choosing. 

I personally wouldn’t have been able to graduate debt-free this spring if not for CUNY. My sister – who was the first in my family to go to college – went to City College and had an amazing experience, so I applied and received a scholarship. I was in good company at KIPP NYC College Prep High School in the Bronx, which sent 76 students to CUNY schools the year I graduated. In fact, since our high school started graduating students seven years ago, 40% of its student body has gone to CUNY. 

At City College, I was a part of the media and communications program. Within my program, I learned the ins and outs of the advertising and public relations industry while also connecting and building relationships with my professors, who are professionals in the field. Through my program, I was able to find internships and stay on track with my career goals. 

By cutting funds, CUNY students will not be afforded the opportunities I was given. During my time at City College, I was granted access to resources like the writing center, the career center, and amazing adjunct professors, who helped me navigate course and career decisions. Many CUNY students are first-generation college attendees; taking away these vital resources would stunt the trajectory from college to career, and beyond.    

Cutting CUNY’s budget would hinder schools and the diverse student population they serve, plain and simple. I’m asking the governor and the Legislature to do the right thing and preserve funding for CUNY. Let’s move one step closer to creating the equitable New York we all deserve.  

Miranda Genao graduated from The City College of New York in May 2020 with a degree in Media and Communications. She is a first-generation college student from the Bronx.

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Governor, Legislature Must Take CUNY Cuts Off The Table Tue, 30 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Challenges, Uncertainty Abound for CUNY System and Its Students, Faculty and Staff 1 bxcc widespread

A CUNY campus in the Bronx (photo: Bronx Community College)

CUNY, New York City's public university system, is facing a crisis within a crisis, as it looks at expected budget cuts while supporting students, many of whom come from disadvantaged backgrounds, through a pandemic and its fallout, including vanishing economic opportunity.

Intended as a pathway to upward mobility for city residents, many of its students are from the same populations most severely hit by the pandemic and face some of the most immediate difficulties posed by COVID-19 -- food, housing, and financial insecurity. Yet, at the same time that students need additional support, city and state fiscal uncertainty makes it difficult for the university to address new needs on top of old ones. As CUNY's budget contracts and cuts are made, the hardships are also reverberating among the system's adjunct and support staff, many of whom are often just barely getting by.

COVID-19 has hit CUNY students hard and from all sides, according to the students, administrators, and advocates who testified Wednesday at a remote oversight hearing held by the New York City Council’s Committee on Higher Education, its first hearing since the pandemic began.

Many students have lost jobs and housing, they said. Some have moved into shelters or crowded living situations while struggling to adapt to the new frontier of remote learning. Others have had to take on child care responsibilities, or elder care related to COVID-19, with little support navigating the aid and services available through the university and other government agencies. Many report having gone hungry at some point during the course of their studies.

"These issues that emerged as CUNY went online go beyond simply ensuring laptops and internet access," said Melanie Kruvelis, senior policy manager at Young Invincibles, a student advocacy group. "These are intersectional issues that underscore which students are able to access higher ed, and those who are left behind to figure it out for themselves."

Administrators have made efforts to soften the impact of the virus on students as education moved online, but students say a lack of coordination around available services often leaves them on their own. Fears of a tuition hike are high.

CUNY has roughly 550,000 students between its degree and continuing education programs across dozens of community colleges, senior colleges, graduate schools, and research centers, according to a report prepared by the New York City Council. Executive Vice Chancellor and University Provost José Luis Cruz told the committee that recent student polling suggests that during the crisis nearly 40 percent lost their jobs, roughly 18 percent have gone hungry, and 55 percent face housing insecurity.

Even before the pandemic, more than 40 percent of students made less than $20,000 per year and nearly half were first generation college students, according to the Council's report, which cited a 2016 student survey. About 1 in 10 CUNY students was a parent or single parent caring for a child.

The university has distributed roughly $110 million in financial aid to students, largely through the federal CARES Act, since the state of emergency. About $107 million of CARES funding has been distributed directly to eligible students in emergency grants, according to Senior Vice Chancellor and CFO Matthew Sapienza, with another $11 million yet to be provided. The average grant is $600, with an allocation formula based on financial need and whether a student has dependents, the administrators say. Another $2 million from the Chancellor's Emergency Relief Grant Program has gone to 4,000 students in $500 one-time payments to undocumented and other students who do not qualify for CARES funding.

Sapienza and Cruz also reported that the university has distributed the entire $1 million announced in December by Council Speaker Corey Johnson and CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez as part of a pilot program to combat food insecurity among low-income students, with a specific focus on Dreamers and DACA recipients.

But for many students, including those who are unaware of or ineligible for these programs, the grants are a drop in a lake-sized financial hole. The one-off grants may also be (at least partially) offset by a proposed tuition hike of $200, which CUNY administrators are seeking.

"How could we even think of raising the tuition at this moment when these students are losing their jobs, are homeless," asked Ali Haider Hassan, a vice chair of the University Student Senate (USS), at the City Council Wednesday. "Many students have to finish paying off this past semester's tuition and have to save for next semester while also worrying about an increase."

Timothy Hunter, chair of the USS, pointed out that many students who did not lose jobs are frontline workers, having to navigate academic life, social services, and a deadly epidemic simultaneously.

The students are seeking a $16 million allocation to cover a tuition freeze. Several students suggested the funding come from the NYPD's $5.9 billion budget.

Only Council Member Inez Barron, a Brooklyn Democrat and chair of the committee, made remarks or asked questions of the panelists. A few other Council members were announced as on the line, but never appeared on the video or spoke during the hearing.

In response to Barron’s questions, Sapienza said the final say on tuition will come down to CUNY's overall budget outlook, which must factor in public funding, including future federal aid, enrollment levels, fundraising, and the needs of campus operations. "All of those things will be taken into consideration. We very much take tuition increases very seriously," he said, pointing out that two-thirds of CUNY undergraduates attend college tuition-free through various grant and scholarship programs already in place.

In the current academic year, CUNY's budget was roughly $3.7 billion, of which 53 percent came from New York State aid, and another 20 percent from student tuition, 14 percent from New York City, and 8 percent from the federal government. As the city faces a tax revenue shortfall of almost $10 billion, Mayor Bill de Blasio has proposed $31.6 million in cuts to CUNY funding in the next fiscal year, according to a CUNY official.

To help transition to distance learning, the CUNY administration has distributed 30,000 laptops or tablets to students and implemented an optional credit/no-credit grading system for the spring 2020 semester. "Still even as CUNY adapted to this digital environment, we know many students entered the semester without adequate internet access," said Kruvelis of Young Invincibles during her testimony. That includes homeless students who make up 14 percent of the CUNY student body, she said.

Kruvelis noted that the university has worked to increase its food pantries and "single-stop services." She said these efforts have helped, but without concerted wrap-around support, needs will continue to go unmet and academic performance will slip. "It's time to step up coordination and communication of these services. We need to see digital CUNY-wide platforms that connect students to basic needs assistance. We need CUNY-wide campaigns aimed at enrolling eligible students SNAP, Medicaid, and other services. And we also need CUNY to keep an eye on the rising housing insecurity students face," she said.

One student, Gregory Reyes, who immigrated from the Dominican Republic and is enrolled at Lehman College, told the Council the technology CUNY provided was not adequate for his major in digital design and he was forced to take the credit/no-credit option for those courses, despite receiving high grades in others. One of the programs that helped him get into college in the first place is College Now, which allows high school students to take college courses, and which is facing serious budget reductions. (Several of the students who testified spoke in support of the program.)

Despite the uncertainty around learning in the next academic year, enrollment projections for the summer and fall semesters are cause for hope, Cruz told the committee. CUNY is projecting a 16 percent increase in summer enrollment despite classes being entirely online. Cruz said enrollment in the fall could drop by 4.4 percent, but that this projection does not include many campuses that have yet to announce their numbers. While it does expect an overall reduction in enrollment, Cruz said the projection was not as bad as other higher education institutions. CUNY has yet to determine the balance between online and in-person classes for the fall.

As Gotham Gazette previously reported, with budget cuts on the horizon, CUNY is eying a reduction in course offerings, which also means cutting the hours of adjunct professors and continuing education teachers, in some cases to zero. Some campuses are planning course reductions of 25 to 35 percent.

"In a moment where New Yorkers, especially those who have borne the biggest cost of the pandemic, will be for new education and new skills to the city university in ways that they may never have needed before -- that's exactly the moment for new investment, not for cuts and layoffs," testified Barbara Bowden, president of the Professional Staff Congress, which represents 25,000 CUNY faculty and staff, according to its website.

"If there is going to be redirection of funding for New York City, and we hope there will be, some of that funding must go to CUNY," she said of city budget discussions.

In addition to funding for direct student aid, CUNY has received an additional $118 million in CARES Act funding for campus operations related to the pandemic. When Council Member Barron asked how much of that could go to employees' salaries, including the teaching staff, Sapienza said federal criteria limited the spending to teachers' training related to remote learning.

"It cannot be used just for gap-closing activities or to cover a budget shortfall. There are specific uses that are outlined by the U.S. Department of Education," he told Barron.

When it came time for her testimony, Bowden disagreed: "The CARES Act also includes a provision for keeping employees on payroll. Employees should be kept on payroll if they receive CARES Act money."

by Ethan Geringer-Sameth, reporter, Gotham Gazette

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Challenges, Uncertainty Abound for CUNY System and Its Students, Faculty and Staff Wed, 10 Jun 2020 04:00:00 +0000
CUNY Faces Massive Potential Shakeup Due to City and State Budget Cuts CUNY students

CUNY Graduates (photo: Ed Reed/Mayor's Office)

As CUNY braces for tens of millions of dollars of potential city and state cuts to its budget, hundreds of its most vulnerable employees are bracing for pink slips. 

Colleges across the sprawling, citywide public university system have announced contingency plans to drastically reduce course offerings, adjunct professors and other part-time employees ahead of expected budget shortfalls, leaving many unsure of their positions for the upcoming semester.

Manhattan’s John Jay College of Criminal Justice, for example, plans to cut over 400 adjuncts, according to the Professional Staff Congress, CUNY’s staff and faculty union. Meanwhile, Brooklyn College could shrink course offerings by 25 percent. The College of Staten Island could reduce classes by 35 percent, the PSC said, though a spokesperson from the college denied that there is a planned course reduction to such a degree without offering further specifics.

With a major deadline for reappointing adjuncts later this week, PSC estimates that hundreds or even thousands of adjuncts could lose their jobs due to the cuts.

The proposed cuts have the potential to drastically shake up CUNY, where 56 percent of classes are taught by adjunct professors, according to the PSC. CUNY employed roughly 7,280 full-time faculty and 12,288 part-time faculty across its 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, and seven graduate, honors, and professional schools during the most recent academic year.

In an open letter to CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez, PSC President Barbara Bowen denounced the potential cuts, calling for administration accountability during this tumultuous time for the university.

“At this moment of economic and health crisis, the CUNY administration should be defending the University and advocating for an expansion of CUNY to meet the needs of working people—not assisting in the University’s destruction,” she wrote.

The CUNY senior and community colleges’ operating budget for the 2019-2020 academic year was roughly $3.7 billion. Of that figure, 53 percent of funding came from New York State aid, 14 percent from New York City, 20 percent from student tuition, 8 percent from the federal government, and 5 percent from scholarships and waivers.

With New York state and city governments facing massive budget shortfalls in the fallout of the COVID-19 crisis, Governor Andrew Cuomo has said major across-the-board budget reductions are looming, while Mayor Bill de Blasio has outlined a potential $31.6 million reduction in funding for CUNY next fiscal year, according to a CUNY official. Both leaders have said general cuts may not have to be made if the federal government comes through with a “bailout” to replace lost tax revenue, and the CUNY system is also looking to Washington, D.C. to shore up its coffers.

Freeman Klopott, spokesperson for the New York State Division of the Budget, confirmed that in the absence of federal funding, spending cuts would have to be made, with a plan for specific reductions in the works. Laura Feyer, a spokesperson for the Mayor’s Office, also called on the federal government to assist the city and avoid “disastrous” budget cuts.

“To date, badly needed additional federal support has not materialized,” CUNY spokesperson Frank Sobrino said in a statement. “CUNY joins in calling on the federal government to take prompt action to support New York and stave off potentially deep cuts to our academic programs, campuses and our students.”

A Brooklyn College spokesperson also said that the pandemic has had a “major, negative impact on the state economy.”

“In anticipation of potential budget cuts from the city and state, academic departments are being asked to trim sections and classes that are under-filled,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “While department chairs have been asked to turn in course schedules with a 25 percent reduction in sections, this is being used to assess budgetary and equity perspectives.”

A John Jay spokesperson directed questions back to the CUNY central office.

Adjuncts from across the system say that communication has been unclear about what potential cuts could mean for them and the students they serve.

Pamela Stemberg, an adjunct English professor at Manhattan’s City College and the Bronx’s  Hostos Community College, said that she already has lost a class at Hostos. At City College, where she is vice-chair of the college’s PSC chapter, she said she’s concerned that cuts will force the college to increase its class sizes and put a strain on professors and students.

“It’s English composition, how much bigger can you possibly make the class? Well I guess I’ll find out,” she said.

Professors like Stemberg fear that cuts would stunt the university’s ability to reach the students who need help the most.

CUNY’s mission is to be a means of upward mobility for some of the city’s most economically disadvantaged students, and it serves one of the most diverse student bodies in the nation. Of the 245,000 undergraduates at CUNY, 61 percent come from households where neither parent graduated from college, and 35 percent of students were born outside of the United States, according to CUNY.

Katie Uva, an adjunct lecturer in history at Manhattan’s Baruch College and the Bronx’s Lehman College, said that at 38 students, her class sizes are already “enormous” and that it would be harder for students to obtain needed credits if class offerings were reduced.

Uva said no one has communicated anything specific about cuts to her. She is confirmed to teach at Lehman over the summer and was reappointed to her position at Baruch, she said.

“CUNY management is doing a bad job in communicating why they think these cuts are necessary,” Uva said, adding that she thinks the cuts would be “disastrous.”

Jenna Tipaldo, an adjunct who teaches statistics at Manhattan’s Hunter College, is worried about the ramifications the cuts would have when coupled with the setbacks professors and students have experienced this semester with online instruction. As the COVID-19 pandemic spread through New York City, CUNY moved to a distance learning model in mid-March.

Tipaldo said it’s more difficult to read students’ non-verbal cues over video-conferencing platforms like Zoom, which makes it harder to see which students are understanding the material and which aren’t.

“To be able to bridge the gap for this semester, I do think students will need additional support,” she said, looking ahead to the fall. As of May 24, CUNY has not announced plans to reopen in-person schooling in September. Plans to reopen other colleges across the city have been mixed — while New York University and Fordham University have said they plan to do so, Columbia University also hasn’t yet announced plans.

CUNY professors have begun organizing against the potential cuts. Rank and File Action, a CUNY activist group born out of the adjunct pay-raise movement, has asked professors to withhold grades for the spring semester in protest of the proposed cuts.

The PSC has called for greater taxes on the wealthy to fund public education, an idea backed by a handful of lawmakers, including State Senators Michael Gianaris, Andrew Gounardes and John Liu and Assemblymembers Aravella Simotas, Harvey Epstein and Catalina Cruz.

“Adjunct faculty are not expendable. They are talented teachers and devoted mentors of students; they deserve far better than panicked, preemptive layoffs,” Bowen said at a May 15 PSC press conference.

CUNY colleges must notify adjuncts if they will be reappointed to their positions by Friday, May 29.

by Victoria Merlino, Gotham Gazette

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CUNY Faces Massive Potential Shakeup Due to City and State Budget Cuts Mon, 25 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Not a Novel Crisis at CUNY brooklyn college dsc

CUNY is closed (photo: Brooklyn College)

What does an educational crisis look like in a plague year? How can I convey, from inside a health emergency, that the City University of New York has been in a slow-burn, decades-long state of crisis? COVID-19 is a matter of life and death, while higher education is not. Yet the COVID-19 pandemic reveals with new urgency, rather than diminishes by comparison, CUNY’s longstanding, systemic failures.

We need to grasp the relationship between this novel coronavirus and CUNY if we want to make a better future for New Yorkers and their city. New York City’s public higher education system and the public health system are connected, each overwhelmed, under-resourced, and fighting for the same tax dollars. They are mirrors of each other, two reflections of a government reneging on its responsibility to the public good, even in the strongest economic times. In the mirror of the virus, which has preyed upon long-standing disparities in our society, we see…

…the State rushing to buy poor CUNY students the technology they need for distance learning now that professors and students cannot meet in person for fear of contagion. But our students needed that technology before COVID-19, and where was the State of New York?

Take a pre-COVID look at CUNY’s campuses and you’ll see that we don’t have printer paper, that our college libraries can’t buy books, and that tenure track faculty can be found in less than half of our classrooms.

We see the unprepared State urgently seeking personal protective equipment and ventilators. At the same time, my college has not had hot water in its restrooms for years, nor decent and affordable food on campus. Black mold, open elevator shafts, and vermin in the halls of CUNY are well documented on social media (see #brokelyncollege, for instance). Just as New York needs short-term healthcare heroics to fight the virus, we need long-term healthcare heroics to make our educational environments safe.

We see with fresh eyes that the State has for decades refused to fund the MTA, the primary source of transit for CUNY’s city-wide commuters. As COVID-19 now makes a ghost ship of the MTA in more affluent neighborhoods and a human petri dish in poorer neighborhoods, are we to forget that for years the State’s slow, dilapidated trains and buses have translated directly into late students, missed classes, lower grades, and unconscionably high dropout rates at CUNY?

In an echo of New York City’s most deadly modern plague, AIDS, COVID-19 is again punishing our most despised, our poorest, most harshly. These are our low-income CUNY students, our precarious Dreamers, our full-time working students with no margin for educational error. Whatever COVID-19 costs, the underclass, black, brown, and ethnic white CUNY community is sure to pay in a special way. We know this from long years of experience.

What the coronavirus brings into startling clarity is that we need to stop using the same threadbare language we’ve long used, perversely, to cast CUNY’s failures as its strengths: “aspiration” (in the face of massive defunding and managed inequity), “social mobility” (for the minority of students who graduate), and our “democratizing mission” (despite constant tuition increases and the ever-widening material disparities between CUNY and rich schools). Metaphors, whether of crisis or hope, will not help us now.

What will happen to CUNY after COVID-19? Beyond dire prediction and revolutionary hope lies a confrontation with the mundane, deeply structural crisis that defines CUNY and public education. The very least we can do is admit that in the years of shortsighted austerity budgeting since the 2008 recession CUNY has managed to become—has been managed to become—less rather than more prepared to meet the current moment.

Governor Cuomo must use the timing of COVID-19 to set a new timeline for CUNY. Before the urgency of the health crisis ends, let tuition at CUNY end. Before COVID-19 kills more of our faculty, let CUNY commit to doubling its full-time, tenure-track faculty and to providing our well-qualified adjuncts clear routes to those new jobs. Before COVID-19 becomes a normalized health disaster, let us disrupt New York’s educational disaster by calling it by that very name. For as CUNY’s 275,000 students and 45,000 instructional faculty and staff know, our crisis is anything but novel.

Matt Brim is an associate professor of queer studies at the College of Staten Island, CUNY, and part of the Women's and Gender Studies Faculty, CUNY Graduate Center. His most recent book, Poor Queer Studies: Confronting Elitism in the University, was published in March 2020 by Duke University Press. On Twitter @mattbrimnyc.

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Not a Novel Crisis at CUNY Tue, 05 May 2020 04:00:00 +0000
Investing in New York City’s Future 3 chancellor receiving

Saving for college (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)

Across every borough, neighborhood, and community in New York City, families are united behind one wish: that their children will have the access and opportunity to fulfill their dreams. Making this wish a reality, however, is more complicated.

Increasingly, current household income determines a child’s future. Nationally, fewer than 10% of children from low-income households graduate from college, compared to nearly 80% from high-income households.

While programs like free college and student loan debt forgiveness are being debated nationally, statewide efforts like the Excelsior Scholarship have made college more affordable for some New York students, and CUNY provides affordable tuition options for many students, we need to provide support that can cover both tuition and non-tuition costs that pose barriers to higher education for many families.

To bridge the gap of what’s possible for New York City’s youth, we need meaningful collaboration among government, the private sector, philanthropy, and local communities to provide actual funding and support to increase college and career-training access. We need a universal college savings system for every New York City student.

For many New York families, post-secondary education is not even a possibility due to the astronomical costs. For those that do go, nearly 60 percent end up with debt averaging more than $31,000. There is also a stark socioeconomic disparity in savings: among New York City’s lowest-income neighborhoods, just one out of every 91 kindergarten students had a NY 529 savings account, while one in four kindergartners in the highest-income neighborhoods had a NY 529 account.

Having savings set aside for college and career training, from an early age, can have a profound impact on a child’s ability to attend, graduate, and obtain higher paying jobs. A child in a low-income household with modest savings - between $1 and $500 - has been shown to be three times more likely to go to college and four times more likely to graduate from college than a child without an account. This clearly demonstrates the power of early investment in student potential to succeed in the long term. 

Here in Western Queens, students entering kindergarten in a public school in District 30 have been part of a ground-breaking pilot program that provides them with college savings accounts. Through the NYC Kids RISE Save for College Program, every kindergartener over the past three years has automatically received an NYC Scholarship Account with a $100 initial deposit.  This has been made possible by The Gray Foundation.

While similar programs have been piloted in other cities and states, this program is unique in its community-driven, neighborhood-based approach that allows any person, company, community organization, or philanthropy to provide funding to participating students’ accounts. Some examples include the “Concert for College,” a “Donate the Change” campaign sponsored by Seamless, a $15,000 contribution by Brooklyn parents to participating students at P.S. 92 in Corona and the recent “Funding Long Island City’s Future” campaign. These community scholarships have added an additional $400,000 into student college savings accounts.

In addition, the Save for College Program works by partnering with all 39 elementary schools in District 30, the Department of Education, and community-based organizations. All partners work together to provide financial education and college-and-career resources, meeting parents and students locally to provide wrap-around support and information.

Beyond the monetary value, these investments and resources communicate an important message to our children that the community is supporting their future. This month, the third cohort of kindergartners and new first- and second-graders in District 30 were enrolled in this program. With the new cohort, the total number of students with college savings accounts through this program is more than 10,000.

We believe that every New York City community would benefit from this program. That’s why we are working together to bring universal college savings accounts citywide, to all 83,000 kindergarteners who enter the New York City public school each year. We will work with our colleagues in the City Council, the Mayor’s Office, our partners at NYC Kids RISE, and other philanthropic and nonprofit partners to support the expansion of this program to new communities and boroughs.

This universal college savings and community wealth building initiative will not only reduce the cost burden of higher education but also bring our communities together to invest in our city’s future. Please join us in showing our children that their communities have their backs.

City Council Members Danny Dromm, Costa Constantinides, Francisco Moya, and Jimmy Van Bramer represent different parts of Queens.

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Investing in New York City’s Future Tue, 04 Feb 2020 05:00:00 +0000
As Cuomo Proposes Excelsior Scholarship Expansion, 6 Things to Know About the Program free tuition.cuomo

(photo: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

In January 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled the Excelsior Scholarship, New York State’s “free college” initiative. About 20,000 students were awarded Excelsior in the inaugural 2017-18 year. In 2018-19, the number of scholarship recipients rose to 24,000, and for 2019-20, the Legislature projects an increase to 30,000, which will equal no more than 5% of the state’s public college enrollment.    

The 5% figure is small compared to the massive hype that surrounded the program’s rollout. Yet 30,000 beneficiaries is still a large number, exceeding the total undergraduate enrollment at the State University of New York (SUNY) campuses at Albany and Stony Brook, or the combined enrollments at the City University of New York (CUNY) Brooklyn College and City College campuses. 

In his January 8 State of the State address, Governor Cuomo proposed to expand eligibility for Excelsior to students from families with incomes of up to $150,000, which is an increase from the current income limit of $125,000. The governor’s executive budget proposal includes a two-year phase-in, with the cap increasing to $135,000 for the 2020-21 academic year and then to $150,000 in 2021-22. For 2020-21, the total budget for Excelsior would be $146 million, up from an expense of $66.4 million in 2017-18.  

When Cuomo first introduced Excelsior, it was with two purposes—first, to provide relief to families in the middle-class college affordability squeeze, neither eligible for much existing financial aid nor easily able to pay rising public tuition, and, second, to advance educational opportunity and equity to all New Yorkers. “With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides,” he proclaimed.  

As a result of Excelsior, the amount of state financial aid distributed to middle-income families has markedly increased. At the same time, aid to the lowest-income students via the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and TAP credit program has grown only incrementally with step-ups to keep pace with tuition increases. 

With Excelsior, the goal of middle-class college affordability has advanced, yet as it has a wider chasm has opened between the resources available to low-income and middle-income students. Excelsior has never offered that much to low-income students and opening up Excelsior to higher-earning families won’t change that. 

Now that the governor is proposing to expand Excelsior, below are six important things to know about the program, including that as it is now constituted, it offers relatively little to low-income students, community college students, and CUNY students.

1. Excelsior does not help low-income students.

The lowest income students in New York State receive enough financial aid from federal Pell grants and the TAP program to cover the full costs of CUNY tuition or SUNY tuition. As “last dollar” awards, Excelsior scholarships only go to students who have tuition balances remaining after exhausting all other aid. 

The lowest income students, already going to public colleges tuition-free as a result of Pell and TAP, typically gain nothing financially from Excelsior. Thus, a “free college” initiative that might seem like a financial windfall for the lowest income students does not actually reward them additional aid. 

This is a shame, as much research, often coming from the Hope Center for College, Community, and Justice, documents that low-income college students’ financial challenges compromise their abilities to stay in college and to progress toward graduation.  

2. Excelsior benefits students from families that are “upper” low-income and middle-income. 

If the lowest-income students don’t benefit from Excelsior, who does? The answer is middle-class students and near middle-class students with tuition balances remaining after accounting for Pell and TAP. My prior reporting profiled grateful middle-class students at Brooklyn College and SUNY Albany for whom Excelsior has been a difference-making lifeline. 

Students from families with taxable incomes of between $80,000 and $125,000 are in the sweetest spot. At $80,000+ in taxable income, families generally phase out of eligibility for Pell or TAP. For these students, Excelsior flips the script from a full tuition bill to none.    

As the income cap has increased to $125,000 from the initial cap of $100,000 in 2017-18, the program has become even more of a middle-class tuition relief program than it was during its inaugural year. 

The proposal to increase the upper income limit to $150,000 would extend the program towards upper middle-class territory. According to the Pew Research Center, a household of three with an income of $50,697-$152,092 is middle-class, with that defined as having an income of between two-thirds and double the national median income adjusted for household size, with the figures modified to $60,49-$181,496 for household sizes of four.  

Data from the NYS Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC), which administers Excelsior, is presented in the scattergram below and shows that the program, during its inaugural year, provided more substantial benefits to students at colleges serving predominantly middle-income and near-middle-income students than colleges serving predominantly low-income students. This is as would be expected given the design of Excelsior, but the magnitude of the program’s bias in favor of middle-income students is especially stark when visualized.     

In the scattergram, each of the state’s public CUNY and SUNY colleges is represented by a point on the coordinate plane. The horizontal axis captures the percentage of students at each institution receiving Excelsior while the vertical axis captures the percentage of students receiving Pell grants. The Pell grant percentage at a college is a strong proxy for the percentage of low-income students at the institution. 

In the scattergram, the lower the Pell grant receipt rate (and by proxy, the more middle-class the student body), the higher the percentage of students who received Excelsior. (The methodology section at the end of the article describes the data sources and their limitations.)  

The lower quadrants of the scattergram are an area worthy of special attention. In 2017, 12 of the state’s public colleges had less than 40% of their freshmen receiving Pell grants. These colleges had the most middle-class student bodies among the state’s public colleges and included schools such as SUNY Geneseo and SUNY Binghamton. At these 12 campuses, 6.3% of students received Excelsior in 2017-18, nearly double the 3.2% statewide rate for the same year—and this was as a number of these campuses enrolled significant numbers of out-of-state students not eligible for Excelsior.  

Meanwhile, as an example from a campus with a high-percentage of low-income students, at CUNY LaGuardia Community College, whose data point is in the upper left corner of the scattergram and where 73% of freshmen received Pell grants in fall 2017, only 0.3% of the student body received Excelsior, far below the 3.2% statewide rate.

The entire scattergram illustrates an inverse relationship between Pell grant receipt rates and Excelsior award rates.

3. Excelsior hardly benefits community college students. 

Excelsior recipients are especially scarce at the community colleges, where 1.7% of students were awarded Excelsior in 2017-18, compared to 4.6% of students at the four-year colleges. 

Excelsior is relatively unique among “free college” initiatives in extending benefits beyond community colleges, and this actually reinforces the historic under-funding of community colleges compared to four-year colleges. Of all 2017-18 Excelsior award recipients,75.7% were students at four-year colleges and 24.3% students at community colleges, even though community college students are about half of the state’s public college enrollment. 

The vast differential in award rates between community college students and their four-year college counterparts is driven by two factors. First, community college students are more likely to benefit from fully-covered tuition via combined Pell and TAP awards than are four-year students. This is in part because the lower tuition amounts at the community colleges generate fewer cases where tuition gap-filling Excelsior awards are needed. Second, Excelsior rules that require full-time attendance, continuous enrollment, and earning a heavy 30 credits each year eliminate from eligibility many community college students.  

In dollar amounts, $12.2 million in Excelsior funds, representing 18.3% of the total Excelsior budget, went to community college students in 2017-18, with the balance of $54.2 million, or 81.6%, going to four-year college students. 

4. Excelsior hardly benefits CUNY students. 

Excelsior also does not register much of a presence at the CUNY colleges. In 2017-18, the 18 CUNY colleges enrolled a 16.3% share of Excelsior scholarship recipients, with the balance of 83.7% of recipients attending SUNY colleges, even though CUNY students comprise 38.8% of the state’s public student enrollment. The number of recipients is small at SUNY but minuscule at CUNY. 

Excelsior recipients are virtually non-existent at some community colleges. CUNY Hostos Community College had just 12 awardees, and CUNY Kingsborough Community College had only 42. 

The key driving force for the differential is that CUNY students are more likely than SUNY students to have lower family incomes for which Excelsior offers no additional financial benefits. CUNY students also are more likely than SUNY students to be ineligible by attending part-time or by not earning 30 credits annually.  

As depicted in the chart below, 0.4% of CUNY community college students received Excelsior in 2017-18, compared to 2.0% of CUNY senior college students, 2.3% of SUNY community college students, and 6.7% of students at SUNY four-year institutions. SUNY four-year college students also received financially larger awards, on average, though this is likely the result of these students receiving awards for two semesters at particularly high rates rather than just awards for single semesters.

excelsior college

In dollar amounts, $9.9 million in Excelsior aid went to CUNY students compared to $56.4 million to SUNY students. The discrepancy between the amounts to CUNY and SUNY students is steep.  

The bar chart below is another telling visualization, presenting the imbalanced Excelsior awards for all of the state’s public colleges. The schools with the highest percentages of students receiving Excelsior awards tend to be mostly SUNY four-years. The schools with the lowest award rates are mostly CUNY two-years.

In theory, “free college” seems like a neutral idea—free to all!—yet in reality, Excelsior’s rewards are targeted. The by-product of Excelsior’s income and academic eligibility criteria is a funding imbalance between CUNY and SUNY constituencies.

Today, the imbalanced distribution of Excelsior awards is almost certainly more biased in favor of SUNY four-year schools than it was in 2017-18. The SUNY four-years likely have the highest percentage of students enrolled from families with incomes of between $100,000 and $125,000, an income range presently covered by Excelsior that was not during the program’s inaugural year. If Governor Cuomo is successful in expanding the income range another $25,000 to $150,000, then the imbalance in the distribution of funds between CUNY and SUNY would likely deepen further.

Data from the completed 2018-19 academic year, when the income cap was raised by $10,000 to $110,000, could shed light on the impact of marginally increasing the income cap but so far HESC has yet to release that information to the public.

5. The Excelsior program is not incentivizing more students to enroll in college.  

One redeeming value for Excelsior could be that its simple message of “free college,” broadcast widely by Governor Cuomo and in the news media, may be incentivizing more New Yorkers, especially of limited means, to enroll in college and to achieve college degrees. 

Research from Hieu Nguyen, a researcher in the Department of Economics at the University of Tennessee, suggests that, at least in its first year, Excelsior did not catalyze an enrollment boom. According to Nguyen’s 2019 article in Education Economics, which compares enrollment patterns in New York State with enrollment patterns in other states using a quasi-experimental statistical design, Excelsior had a “negligible effect” on boosting higher education enrollment in the state. 

It should not come as a surprise that Excelsior didn’t jumpstart college enrollment given that it has such restrictive eligibility criteria and offers no financial benefits to most low-income students. 

The research, however, is not definitive, as Nguyen’s research explored just Excelsior’s first year. There may have been an Excelsior-related bump in college enrollment in the program’s second or third years, once there were longer periods of time for the message of “free college” to influence high school students’ developing attitudes towards college-going.

6. Excelsior may have positive effects on student retention and on-time graduation.

Another positive feature for Excelsior could be that it contributes to increased retention and graduation rates.  

Yet there is no conclusive research on Excelsior’s impacts on retention and graduation. In September 2019, the governor’s office announced that the two-year graduation rate for Excelsior students at SUNY community colleges was 30% compared to a non-Excelsior graduation rate of 11%. For CUNY community college students, the two-year graduation rate was also 30%, compared to 12% for non-Excelsior students. This is a positive sign, yet Excelsior and non-Excelsior students differ in substantive ways, most notably by income level, and more rigorous research is required, which is only possible if more Excelsior data is released.  

In his State of the State address, Governor Cuomo declared, “The national progressive dream of free college tuition is a New York reality.” Yet for New York State’s “free college” program to be a strong model to other states and cities, there must be reforms to the entire New York State financial aid system such that it distributes more aid to low-income students, rather than introducing a costly subsidy to families in the $125,000-$150,000 income range.  

Methodological Notes:
The HESC data on the Excelsior Scholarship awards from 2017-18 is posted on the Open NY website. The figures for SUNY Tompkins County Community College (TCCC) are “pending final eligibility determination,” according to HESC (email correspondence), and have been excluded.    

For each campus’ total number of undergraduate students, the fall 2017 NCES IPEDS enrollment figure was used. The number of Excelsior recipients at each college was divided into that college’s fall 2017 IPEDS enrollment figure to calculate the percentage of students at each campus receiving Excelsior. 

This is an imperfect approach, as the Excelsior scholarship headcount figures in the HESC dataset are described as being for both semesters of the 2017-2018 award year rather than just for the fall semester. An alternative method would be to rely on the IPEDS unduplicated annual headcount as the denominator for calculating the award rate percentages. This alternative approach would have generated lower award rates and an even more pronounced gap in award rates between community college and four-year college students.   

This alternative approach was not employed because the unduplicated annual headcount figure is a noisy variable skewed by summer session enrollments, non-degree enrollments, and other factors. In some cases, unduplicated annual headcount figures are twice the fall 2017 headcount. 

As a consequence, the percentages of students receiving Excelsior cited in this article are not precise but are approximate ones employed to show relative differences.  

Are you a student, parent, school official or other person who has an experience with the Excelsior Scholarship that you’d like to share? If so, contact

Eric Neutuch is a freelance journalist and former CUNY administrator, 2009-2017.

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As Cuomo Proposes Excelsior Scholarship Expansion, 6 Things to Know About the Program Wed, 29 Jan 2020 05:00:00 +0000
For Future Generations, New York City and State Must Significantly Increase CUNY Investment Now kids Jumaane school

(photo: John McCarten/City Council)

I’m a CUNY graduate twice over – my bachelor’s and master’s degrees are both from Brooklyn College. Between the seven years I took for my four-year degree, and the four years for my two-year degree, I’ve spent about as much time on a CUNY campus as anyone. My professors, my fellow students, my overall CUNY experience shaped who I am and what my driving principles are -- what I’ve been fighting for as an activist and an elected official.

Now, as tuition rises and investment stagnates, I fear that students across our city will be denied that transformative, invaluable, CUNY experience.

As outlined in my recent report, government funding for CUNY has failed to keep up with booming enrollment. From 2008 to 2017, per-student funding from the state dropped 18 percent, adjusted for inflation and enrollment growth. This continued underfunding has hamstrung CUNY’s ability to provide a quality education for thousands of students, most of whom are people or more color and graduated from our city’s public schools.

In fact, the student body of CUNY appears directly related to its funding. When CUNY was first established, it was tuition-free, in recognition of the need for accessible, high-quality public education. But as the complexion of CUNY students changed, so too did the policy, with black and brown student majorities made to bear the brunt of the expense as the balance of funding CUNY shifted away from government and toward the student population. This has naturally also contributed to the overall challenges of financing this “public” education.

With limited resources, CUNY has seen its operational quality threatened as the system has to rely on underpaid adjunct faculty to teach its students, many of whom work additional jobs to pay their bills. CUNY has also been forced to cut student support services—like academic and mental health advisors or hours at writing centers—and course selections, leaving many students unable to register for a mandatory class.

Financial shortcomings are also evident in CUNY’s physical infrastructure—broken toilets, exposed wiring, vermin outbreaks, flooding, and broken elevators further detract from the educational experience of today’s students.

Unfortunately, the students who suffer the most from underfunding are those who most need our help. CUNY’s constrained budget provides limited opportunity for it to help support its most vulnerable students, many of whom are food insecure, homeless, or come from low-income families. While tuition remains comparatively low, CUNY students who receive tuition assistance still must pay for major expenses like housing and food, forcing them to work for pay and spend more time away from their studies. Without proper support, CUNY students are finding it hard to graduate.

However, there’s a silver lining: CUNY knows what works and just needs the resources to do it.

CUNY has created innovative programming, like ACE and ASAP, which have already boosted graduation rates and improved educational outcomes. Other programs aimed at providing support for specific marginalized communities, including the Black Male Initiative and Citizenship! Now, help campuses retain and support students of more color, who make up the majority of CUNY’s population.

These programs and others are part of why CUNY campuses are among the best nationwide for raising the economic statuses of the system’s most vulnerable students—a pathway and an opportunity for lower- and middle-class students of all racial and ethnic backgrounds. It’s also critical to know when something doesn’t work, like the Excelsior Scholarship, which made headlines but not real change, as nowhere near enough students saw relief from ever-escalating costs of a college education.

To ensure CUNY can support its mission of serving as a vehicle of social mobility that provides quality education for all New Yorkers, New York State and New York City must increase investment in public higher education. Crucially, the city must specifically increase its funding for CUNY senior colleges, which have historically received limited city funding, to better match their contribution to our city’s economy and culture.

This month, CUNY’s staff and faculty union, the Professional Staff Congress (PSC), ratified a new contract that secured historic gains for nearly 30,000 workers. But any discussion of increasing wages must be coupled with calls to address the underlying issue: the need for New York to increase its financial commitment to public higher education.

Our state and city leaders are now at a critical juncture. They can either decide to build on their investment in higher ed and ensure students receive a quality affordable education, or allow an invaluable, historic educational institution to decline, along with the opportunities it creates.

With greater funding, CUNY will be able to increase the percentage of its faculty that works full-time and raise salaries for remaining adjuncts. It can also expand its student tuition-assistance programs to include more part-time students and even currently incarcerated individuals. And it can continue to build on its world-class programming, providing an invaluable education for generations of New Yorkers like it did for me and so many others already.

Jumaane Williams is the Public Advocate of the City of New York. On Twitter @JumaaneWilliams.

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For Future Generations, New York City and State Must Significantly Increase CUNY Investment Now Tue, 10 Dec 2019 05:00:00 +0000
The Right to a Free and Quality Public Higher Education in New York cuny com 12

(photo: The City College of New York)

CUNY has long been the pride of New York City and its cradle of opportunity. But at a recent legislative hearing on higher education in Brooklyn, we heard from teachers, administrators, and students about a harsh reality: After years of state underinvestment in public college, our CUNY system is teetering on the edge of crisis. 

Both of us have been blessed with a CUNY education. Yet both of us see firsthand the heartbreak and struggle that many students face when they seek to advance themselves through higher education. In the end, some graduate. Some don’t. And some never get to try because it’s just not affordable.

Students desperately need relief. CUNY’s six-year degree completion rate is only 55%, and financial strain is one of the main reasons students drop out. In a 2017 report on college success, the Center for an Urban Future shared that 75% of dropouts at Kingsborough Community College had a financial “red flag” in their accounts such as owing money or loss of scholarship. To make matters worse, a staggering half of all CUNY students experience food insecurity, and many struggle with housing insecurity or even homelessness. 

There’s a reason for this dire situation: Tuitions have risen steadily year after year, as the share of the budget that comes from tuition has grown from 20% to almost 50% over the past 30 years.

In other words, students are bearing the burden of our failure to invest in quality public higher education.

This penny-pinching on the part of New York has led to further consequences. Adjuncts, upon whom CUNY increasingly relies, are grossly underpaid, even with a new contract that would increase the minimum pay per course. The ratio of full-time faculty to students is significantly higher than national standards. Facilities have deteriorated and class sizes have become overcrowded. These trends cause lower retention rates and greater time to graduation.

This is a downward spiral that we must stop. 

In today’s age, a higher education is no less necessary to succeed in most fields as a high school diploma was two generations ago. And a college degree is a pathway to economic opportunity and financial security: according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a person with only a high school diploma has nearly double the unemployment rate of a college graduate and earns on average 39 percent less per week. 

A CUNY education has been shown to be one of the most successful ways to bring a student from the bottom quintile in family income to the top—with a mobility rate of more than three times those of the most elite institutions.

The struggle of our CUNY students and underinvestment in our CUNY system mirrors the budget cuts for public schools across the nation that occurred after the Great Recession. State funding for public schools across the country is $9 billion below 2008 levels, adjusted for inflation, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. 

Recognizing the necessity of free college, Governor Cuomo and the Legislature implemented the Excelsior Scholarship in 2017, aiming to make four-year college tuition-free for many. 

Yet as of 2018, only about 3% of the state’s undergraduates benefited from the scholarship. The majority of applicants who applied were rejected because they didn’t meet the onerous credit requirements.

New York is missing out on future climate scientists, doctors, and other leaders because students can’t pay for rent, food, and a MetroCard without a job, which makes them unable to access or retain the Excelsior Scholarship. 

It’s time to transform New York State with a robust promise for free higher education. We did it once before with K-12 schooling and we should boldly aim to do it again by making New York the first state in the country to constitutionally guarantee a free, quality public college education.

Higher education should not be a luxury for the few but a tool for many. Let New York lead the way and make our state a model of what a commitment to public education in the 21st century should be. 

State Senator Andrew Gounardes represents parts of Brooklyn and is an adjunct professor at Hunter College. Timothy Hunter is chair of the University Student Senate and a CUNY Student Trustee. On Twitter @agounardes & @thunter_tim.

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The Right to a Free and Quality Public Higher Education in New York Mon, 25 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Why I’m Voting No on the CUNY Staff Contract peteharrison cuny

PSC CUNY rally, with the author center back (photo: @PeteHarrisonNYC)

After over two years of negotiations, the Professional Staff Congress of the City University of New York (PSC-CUNY) and the university have reached a tentative deal on a new contract for the 30,000 faculty, adjuncts, librarians, and professional staff in our union.

The leadership of PSC-CUNY has hailed the contract as a historic deal and part of a larger stand against austerity. In particular, they sight the pay gains for adjuncts, which will increase by 71% by 2022.

As an adjunct lecturer at Baruch College, I would stand to gain from these increases, so even though I was skeptical of the contract campaign (and have participated in #7korstrike actions), I was open-minded and eager to hear my colleagues out. It’s tough to take a position against a pay raise because of my own financial insecurity. I also think the agreement secures legitimate gains. I have no doubt that they weren’t easy to get and that the executive committee worked extremely hard, creatively, and thoroughly.

But as I listened to the (at times heated) debate last Thursday night at the Delegate Assembly, I made up my mind to vote “no” on the contract.

My decision is based less on the technical merits of the contract (here’s analysis for and against) and more about the process that got us here and what it says about union power in New York City today. To me it says that it is time for generational change in union leadership.

People that I respect at the meeting and on other occasions say that our leadership has been fighting austiery and leading strikes against it in education for over 20 years; that this contract campaign is part of a longer-term strategy to defeat it. That tax cuts to billionaires makes it hard to fight.

I agree. Our leadership has been fighting for a very long time under ever tighter budgets and tougher political climates. No contract negotiation is going to result in 100% of our demands. Billionaires are making it really hard to fight back.

But the strategy simply isn’t working. Just in my case, the gains adjuncts will see fall short of our goal of $7,000 per course, which is still short of a livable wage in New York City. The overall increases for everyone won’t keep up with inflation. And it is clear that some of the new money will come from higher tuition and fewer courses for students.

To the union leadership’s credit, they acknowledge the shortfalls and vow to fight on for more in the next contract. I believe them. But it is clear that so many years of fighting against corporate power has diminished the sense of what is possible for many of our leaders. For all the rhetoric of standing against austerity, they have accepted it in practice. What’s more, they’ve done so at a time of immense opportunity for organizing in education.

Just as teachers across the country are striking and winning improvements, the leadership didn’t support a strike authorization (someone even dismissed the success of the Chicago teachers strike compared to this contract campaign). Just as a new level of energy and base-building has emerged among staff and students, the leadership claims that the membership isn’t motivated enough for mass action. Just as the left in America is finding new confidence, allies, and roads to power, PSC leadership has seemingly worked to protect establishment relationships.

I deeply value the years of experience our leadership has in this fight and the knowledge they have about the contract process. There’s no question that they know more than I do about how things work.

But I, and many members and students know that “how things work” isn’t working. The strategy to make change isn’t working. We live it everyday with higher rents, longer commutes, more work, and lower wages.

Just as importantly, I and many others believe that there are better strategies to make things work. We don’t have the time to wait around for incrementalism. We need to elevate new leaders in these spaces to carry on the fight for the future.

Fighting austerity will take mass mobilization of the working class, and not just in education or the public sector. It means building solidarity with gig economy contractors, service industry workers, and tech workers, among others. It means supporting fights for undocumented workers, sex workers, and the victims of mass incarcertaion who sit in jails or can’t find work. All of the pieces are in place and all of the parts are moving. Educators should lead the way.

Voting “no” on this contract and voting instead for a strike authorization should be the spark that unites a general strike against austerity and the billionaire class that thinks they beat another generation of workers. They are wrong.

Peter Harrison is a Democratic candidate for U.S. Congress (NY-12) and an adjunct lecturer at Baruch College. He lives in Stuyvesant Town. On Twitter @PeteHarrisonNYC.

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Why I’m Voting No on the CUNY Staff Contract Tue, 19 Nov 2019 05:00:00 +0000