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A pension may be the last thing on your mind when you’re starting your CUNY job, but it is one of the first things you’re asked to think about. Retirement income is as much a part of your compensation from CUNY as your salary or benefits. And like the other aspects of your compensation, it is fought for and protected by the union, in this case through the State Legislature, which regulates pensions for public employees.

New York State law mandates participation in a retirement system for full-time members of the CUNY instructional staff. New full-time faculty and staff members have 30 days from the date of appointment to choose a retirement program. The choice is irrevocable. If a choice isn’t made within 30 days, the law mandates that the employee be assigned to the New York City Teachers’ Retirement System (TRS).

Adjuncts and CLIP teachers may enroll in only one plan, TRS, at any point during their careers, but it usually makes economic sense for them to enroll as soon as they start working at CUNY. There are two exceptions. Anyone currently receiving a pension from any New York City or State employees’ retirement system are not eligible to join TRS. Active members of New York City pension plans other than TRS are also ineligible.

Continuing education teachers outside of CLIP and graduate assistants cannot join TRS but have other options for retirement savings. They should call the PSC for more information.

Full-time faculty and staff can choose between TRS and the Optional Retirement Program (ORP). The essential choice is between two kinds of pension plan: defined benefit or defined contribution. In a defined benefit plan, your pension is based on a percentage of your salary at the time of retirement and the number of years you have worked, while in a defined contribution plan your pension is based on the actual accumulation of money in your individual account, contributed by the employer and the employee during the course of your employment.

TRS is a defined benefit plan.

ORP is the defined contribution plan, and there are two investment plans available within it: either through the Teachers Insurance and Annuity Association-College Retirement Equities Fund (TIAA-CREF) or through the alternate funding vehicles offered by The Guardian or MetLife.

CUNY employees who enroll in the ORP with TIAA-CREF can arrange to attend a 1-on-1 counseling session to learn more about the benefits available. Here’s a schedule of upcoming individual counseling sessions that will take place at CUNY Campuses. To schedule a personal advice session, please call 800 732-8353, Monday to Friday, 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. (ET).

This website has in-depth information for both full-time and part-time members to help them make pension choices. There is a good chart comparing the TRS/defined benefit and ORP/defined contribution approaches for full timers; and for part-timers, there is a clear overview of how TRS works. Your college human resources office is also required to provide information about the plans. For questions about how the pension plans work, call Jared Herst at the PSC office at 212-354-1252.

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