CUNY Rising Alliance

Occupy Wall Street, the Fight for 15, and Black Lives Matter have ramped up the debate about racial and economic inequality. In the presidential campaign, the debate about inequality has focused increasingly on the question of access to and quality of public higher education. The future of the City University of New York must be part of that debate. At a time when NYC is more diverse than ever and economic polarization has reached intolerable and unsustainable levels a free, high quality CUNY is more important than ever.

The number of students successfully graduating from New York City public high schools has increased over the past decade. Most enroll at CUNY. Today, more than half of high school graduates enroll in college immediately, and 75% of CUNY freshmen are graduates of City public high schools, and most are poor and working class, from communities of color.

Now, more than ever, it is critical that that the quality of education and access offered by CUNY be strong enough to accommodate the growing demand for a college degree. Anything less is a betrayal of the promise to fix K-12 to create better prepared students for college, since a college degree has replaced a high school degree as a requirement for obtaining a job paying a middle-class wage.

The healthy trends of high school completion and college aspiration are being undermined by other trends. Greater reliance on SAT scores in CUNY’s admission process has meant a reduction in Black and Hispanic enrollment at CUNY’s selective 4-year colleges, and students’ (and their credits’) ability to transfer successfully from the two-year to the 4-year colleges continues to be a challenge. Disinvestment in CUNY by New York State also makes access and quality less and less possible.Tuition for students has increased by $1500 over the past five years (a 31% increase at senior colleges and a 46% increase at community colleges), and CUNY has proposed an additional tuition increase at senior colleges next year. Tuition increases have been accompanied by disinvestment in CUNY’s operating budget by New York State over the past 5 years. State funding has fallen from 55% of total revenue at senior colleges to 52%, while tuition now accounts for 46.5%, up from 44%.

To meet the needs of poor and working- class students across the five boroughs, the City and State must change course and commit to ongoing, predictable public investment to advance the five planks in our Platform for Change.

1. Keep CUNY accessible to low-income, working-class students.

As public investment has declined, CUNY has sought authority to raise tuition. Even with financial aid, the other costs of attending college -- books, fees, transportation, and lost work time – are still a burden for many. As important, many low-income students including working adults and undocumented students get no financial aid at all.

  • Make CUNY free and open once again, and start by freezing tuition at this year's level.
  • Raise the maximum state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) grant and fix gross inequities that bar part-time students, financially independent students without dependents, and undocumented immigrant students from receiving aid;
  • Pass the NYS Dream Act; and
  • Encourage policy and programs that consider the whole cost of college such as extending free or reduced cost Metro cards and bus passes to CUNY students.

2. Provide every city high school graduate with a high-quality CUNY education.

Higher tuition and growing enrollments have disguised the impact of the State’s disinvestment. Courses and programs have been cut, faculty and staff hiring has been curtailed. The workforce of CUNY has been without a wage increase for six years, and full-time faculty have begun to leave. Many clerical and other semi-skilled workers earn far less than $15 an hour. This hurts the quality of students’ education.

  • Expand college curricula with more general, introductory courses and specialized courses, so students have access to diverse, rigorous learning opportunities and can graduate on time;
  • Restructure faculty workload so they have time to mentor students, involve them in active research, experiential learning and independent study;
  • Raise faculty salaries to be competitive nationally, so CUNY can continue to hire the best scholars, teachers, and researchers, and better recruit minority faculty who reflect CUNY’s student body; and
  • Improve the wages of CUNY part time faculty and support staff as well as expand the workforce, so that they can serve students well.

3. Expand supports that improve students’ ability to stay on track and make progress toward obtaining a degree.

CUNY has several enrichment programs with proven records of helping first-generation, educationally disadvantaged and learning-disabled students, as well as students with deficits in their high school preparation. These programs should be significantly expanded so that CUNY students who would benefit from them have access.

  • Expand the number of students who can enroll in Accelerated Studies in Associates Program (ASAP), CUNY Start and CLIP;
  • Provide more counselors to provide counseling and other academic and social supports for incoming freshmen to assure they make a good transition to college;
  • Expand academic tutoring, mental health, and career services; and
  • Keep libraries, language labs and other facilities open when students need them.

4. Increase equity within CUNY by narrowing the racial differences in time to graduation.

CUNY’s graduation rates are on par with national rates for urban public universities. However, CUNY’s Black and Latino male students experience significantly greater time to graduation and many do not finish at all. If New York City is to make good on its historic promise of equal opportunity for all of its citizens, this problem cannot continue.

  • Expand programs like state-funded SEEK program for educationally disadvantaged students enrolled in senior college;
  • Improve CUNY’s admissions process to address low representation of students of color in the freshman class at CUNY’s selective senior colleges; and
  • Allow high school grades and other measures to be assessed for admission instead of relying almost exclusively on SAT scores, to promote greater fairness and access to CUNY’s most selective senior colleges.

5. Address infrastructure needs and maintenance, in addition to new building.

CUNY students lack adequate space to study, meet and socialize outside class—including space dedicated to student organizations—which is an accepted part of a quality education. CUNY facilities are often too cramped or worn out to accommodate students or faculty and staff comfortably. Libraries throughout CUNY often cannot purchase current books and journals. Investments in various forms of technology remain inadequate to support the growing needs of students and faculty.

  • Invest in infrastructure resources at CUNY to provide students with the learning spaces, library materials and access to technology available to their counterparts in private schools and to provide a quality higher education in the 21st century; and
  • Support CUNY’s capital budget request.

Without concerted public attention and new investments, CUNY will not be able to maintain its historic mission to provide a quality education to the people, the whole people of NYC.Together, students, faculty and the community can build the power to demand increased investments in CUNY. Today, as in the past, access to and quality of education at CUNY is one of the most critical justice issues the City faces.