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planned financially for four years
of college for their kids, not five,”
said Phillip Smith, president of
United University Professions,
the SUNY faculty union, and
himself the parent of a SUNY
student. Only 30 percent of
CUNY community college
students earn a degree or transfer
within three years, although that
is better than the dismal national
average of 25.7 percent.
Even as demand soars, the
state allocations for CUNY and
SUNY budgets have plummeted
by more than $400million. Per-
student funding has declined for
four straight years. WhenNew
York’s $1.2 billion share of federal
stimulus money for education
arrived, all but a meager $35.4
million of it was given to
schools that teach kindergarten
through grade 12, thanks to a
complicated education funding
formula imposed on the state by the courts. And of every
dollar collected from the double-digit increases in tuition, 90
cents went not to the universities, but to plug holes in the state’s
general fund, doing little to help accommodate the spiraling
demand for higher education. Even that was a compromise
pushed by an embattled governor past a General Assembly that
hoped to dodge the blame for inevitable cuts and cost increases
in a state where, by spring 2009, revenues were down an almost
inconceivable 36 percent from the previous year.They could
have taken all the proceeds from tuition if they’d wanted to—
and, in the past, they have.
NewYork’s tuition increases are nothing less than a tax on
students, critics say. “We call it the SUNY
tax,” saidMaria Davila, a 21-year-old senior
majoring in political science at SUNYNew
Paltz, a crowdedmaze of chain-link fences
circling construction sites, where dorm
rooms built for two are now housing three
students apiece, after 200more freshmen
than expected showed up last fall.
Almost none of the money actually
goes to higher education. “Forget the
millionaires,” editorialized the
New York
Daily News.
“The people who have been
sucker-punched the hardest under New
York’s bloated, irresponsible budget are the
families whose children are enrolled in the
state universities.” And while the cost of
attending CUNY and SUNYmight be higher, what students
get for their money are courses that are harder to get into, cuts
in programs, and services that have vanished or are thinly
stretched under the weight of surging enrollment. CUNY
has half as many faculty as it did in the 1970s, the last time
enrollment was this high. SUNY has cut staff, imposed hiring
freezes, and increased its reliance on adjuncts.
“Classes are packed. You’re shut out. You have to wait up at
night and pray for somebody to drop,” said JermaineMorris,
23, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College
who has been working for three and a half years toward an
associate’s degree that should have taken two. “I was supposed
to graduate last semester, but couldn’t get the classes I needed.”
Morris hopes to eventually transfer to a CUNY senior college
to get a degree in civil engineering, but he started at the
community college because it was comparatively cheaper. So
much cheaper that, whileMorris can’t wait to get out, some
students say they plan to stick around even after getting their
associate’s degrees, in order to pile upmore transfer credits at
community college rates, only worsening the crowding.
The competition is getting tougher, too. Last year, as a joke,
someone at private NewYork University posted a phony flyer
suggesting students transfer to CUNY to save money. It’s no
longer a joke.The number of applicants to CUNY from the
NewYork City suburbs jumped by nearly 20 percent this year,
and fromoutside NewYork State by 12 percent, evidence that
families are now picking “financial safety schools”—more often
than not, public universities—based not on their children’s
likelihood of getting in, but on their ability to pay.
SUNY saw a 20 percent jump this year in applicants
fromout of state. Officials speculate that these are students
whomight once have gone to Ithaca or Fordham, but whose
families can’t swing private university tuition. SAT scores and
high school grade point averages of entering students rose
significantly this fall. At SUNY Stony Brook, the average SAT
score of the middle 50 percent of applicants was 20 percent
higher this year than last. At New Paltz, near the storied town
of Woodstock, the entering grade point average has climbed
from85 to 92, and the average SAT score from1100 to 1160 in
the past decade. “We used to be an artsy, hippie school, but now
it’s all really smart, collegiate, stuffy people who are majoring in
economics,” Davila said. “The people who are gone are the ones
who didn’t get very good grades in high school and couldn’t
afford to hire SAT tutors.”
It’s not just Stony Brook and New Paltz. SUNY campuses
are “getting smarter kids, and kids withmore means,” said
Michael Trunzo, the system’s vice chancellor for government
relations. “It’s a pocketbook issue.”They are threatening to
squeeze out others for whompublic universities like CUNY
and SUNY, with their legacies of serving ethnic and racial
minorities and urban and rural families, were set up to serve.
“The schools are pleased that they’ve been able to—quote,
unquote—raise standards,” said Deborah Glick, a graduate of
CUNY’s Queens College who chairs the General Assembly’s
higher education committee. “But who gets left out are people
who are more marginal, those who have had some additional
struggles.Then they raise tuition. For some students, a few
hundred dollars is the difference betweenmaking it and not
making it.” Added Smith, “We’re seeing a state that is not taking
responsibility for what it created.”
In fact, even before the most recent cuts, state aid per
student to SUNY fell by five percent, and to CUNY by
14 percent, when adjusted for inflation, according to the
independent Fiscal Policy Institute. Since 1991, the proportion
of the SUNY budget underwritten by the state has fallen
“We need to do a better job of educating people,”
says Phillip Smith, president of the SUNY faculty
union. Campuses are so overcrowded that there
aren’t enough seats in required courses.
Campuses are so
overloaded that there
aren’t enough seats
in required courses,
meaning getting a
degree takes longer—
costing students, and
the state, still more.
Nathaniel Brooks, Black Star, for CrossTalk