Andrew Pallotta: It’s Time To Invest In Public Higher Education

Feb 28, 2019

I’m a proud graduate of New York State’s public education system. My early days were spent in Brooklyn public schools, and I earned college degrees from Kingsborough Community College and the City University of New York’s Brooklyn College. These experiences helped me become the man I am today and, for that, I’m grateful.

Many of our state lawmakers owe a similar debt of gratitude to New York State’s public institutions. And thousands of students statewide share a similar story — not surprising, since CUNY and SUNY are a great deal, offering an affordable path to a quality education.

We need to widen those paths, not narrow them. To do that, we must invest in our public colleges and universities.

Community colleges in particular are great investments. They serve as an economical first step for students moving on to four-year campuses, provide the training regional businesses need for a skilled workforce and advance social mobility by offering students access to higher education in their local communities. Some community college graduates are the first in their families to earn a college degree.

Thanks to programs like the Tuition Assistance Program, more students than ever before can pursue higher education. Unfortunately, the number of full-time faculty isn’t keeping pace. Public campuses statewide increasingly rely on part-time adjunct faculty to teach classes.

While these talented professionals bring a depth of experience and scholarship to the classroom, they’re grossly underpaid. Many travel from campus to campus, stringing together a series of adjunct teaching assignments, in a struggle to support themselves and their families. The Professional Staff Congress, our local representing faculty and staff at CUNY, is advocating for a $7,000 per three-credit course minimum, as many New York City adjunct professors earn the equivalent of $28,000 a year — a poverty-level wage.

These dedicated professionals deserve the dignity of a living wage. And our public colleges and universities desperately need their talent to ensure that students receive the quality education they deserve.

Another concern is the TAP gap. SUNY and CUNY now must absorb hundreds of millions annually due to the TAP gap — the difference between the maximum student TAP award and current tuition costs. At SUNY, this represents a loss of approximately $1,700 per student. This situation is exacerbated by nine years of flat state funding to both SUNY’s and CUNY’s core instructional budgets.

Lacking the state funding to cover these and other basic operating costs, such as light and heat, SUNY and CUNY have no choice but to absorb them. Shrinking budgets leave students with reduced academic support, fewer course offerings and longer degree completion times as professors and colleges struggle to do more with less.

New York State has taken meaningful steps forward to ensure that thousands more students have affordable access to higher education. To ensure that SUNY and CUNY can provide the academic programs and services that fully meet the needs of students, it’s time for our state leaders to make a strong, increased investment in the core instructional budgets of our public colleges and universities. New York State students deserve nothing less.

Andy Pallotta, a former elementary teacher, is president of the more than 600,000-member New York State United Teachers.

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