You are the oldest of three children in a family living in New York City on $30,000 a year. Your dream of going to college is coming true at the City University of New York. But after one year, you wonder if you will make it to graduation. Tuition is increasing, and even with financial aid, you are struggling to pay for school. You work two part-time jobs to help pay for books, subway fare and your family’s expenses. You love your introductory biology class, but there are only 20 lab stations for 30 students. You feel you are slipping behind. Your professor tries to spend time with you individually, but she teaches part-time at two CUNY campuses and has to run out right after class. You dreamed of helping your whole family by earning a college degree, but you’re afraid you will have to drop out if tuition keeps going up and you can’t get the academic support you need.
Or imagine this scenario:
You are the first-generation child of parents who came to this country to escape poverty, civil war or genocide in their homeland. Your admission to the State University of New York symbolizes hope and achievement for your family and vindicates the sacrifices your parents made to give you a better future. But to pay for college, you need the financial aid and special academic support that comes with the state university’s Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). Then you find out that, against all expectations, you cannot be an EOP student because budget cuts in the SUNY system have eliminated thousands of EOP slots. About 2,500 undergraduate students will be admitted to EOP this year – fewer than one in three of all those who are eligible.
Heartbreaking examples like these abound in our public higher education system. New York’s public community colleges, four-year colleges and universities have historically been a source of hope and inspiration for students and families for whom a college education was otherwise out of reach. That hope is fading. With years of budget cuts, overcrowded classes and a declining number of full-time faculty, we cannot avoid the question: How much does our state government value its public higher education system? Against great odds, faculty and staff have done a tremendous job defending and providing quality – but the system is at a crisis point.
This is why NYSUT – the statewide union for teachers, school-related professionals and the faculty and staff at New York’s public colleges, universities and community colleges – is calling on our elected leaders to support the Quality Public Higher Education Initiative. We are asking Governor Andrew Cuomo and the Legislature to support the initiative’s three main tenets: the establishment of a publicly funded endowment to increase full-time faculty and professional staff; an increase in State funding this year, after years of flat or nearly flat budgets; and significant new investment in student financial aid and opportunity programs at a level that reflects actual need.
‘Our Biggest Asset’
New York State needs to recommit itself to investing in our public colleges and universities. The new economy is based on knowledge, and the greatest resource this state has is its intellectual capital. New York cannot afford to lose a whole generation of aspiring students. When a CUNY student drops out or a SUNY student cannot get into an opportunity program, whole families lose their hope of a better life. We are asking our lawmakers – many of whom are graduates of SUNY and CUNY – to unite to end the state’s five-year trend of disinvestment in our future. To keep New York a state of mind, we need to act now to invest in our biggest asset, one that undergirds every industry, artistic endeavor and social enterprise: public higher education.
Originally published as an advertisement in the March 10 City & State.