February 25, 2016 Contact:
USS: Lucas Almonte, 646-664-8842
NYPIRG: Tiffany Brown, 347-869-9249
CUNY & SUNY STUDENTS TO LAWMAKERS:
INVEST IN FUTURES, INVEST IN HIGHER ED
Albany, NY—More than 400 college students were in Albany today calling on the Legislature to continue to champion investment in public higher education. Together, they urged Albany to increase funding for the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY), enact a true Maintenance of Effort, and freeze tuition.
With a healthy budget surplus, the groups urged legislators: Now is the time for Albany to invest in futures and start rebuilding New York’s public higher education system. Representatives from the City University of New York’s University Student Senate (USS) and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) led a rally in the Legislative Office Building before the crowd dispersed for meetings with close to 100 legislators. It was all part of a massive Higher Education Action Day calling for investment in New York’s future through its most powerful engines of opportunity and economic development, both SUNY and CUNY.
“It is time for Albany to stand with the 550,000 students of CUNY and their families and affirm New York’s investment in their future. It is time for all political leaders involved to assure a quality higher education. At CUNY that means no tuition increases for students, and a new and fair contract for the faculty and staff. New York can remain a national leader of accessible and affordable public higher education if the Legislature continues to stand up for students” said Shirley Jackson, USS vice chair for Graduate Student Affairs.
“For too long, SUNY and CUNY have been underfunded. That’s why the Legislature passed the Maintenance of Effort bill last year. Instead of shifting the burden of funding colleges from the State to students and their families, Albany should seize this moment of budget surplus and rebuild SUNY and CUNY. Hundreds of students from across New York are here to show legislators that it is our futures they are fighting for. It’s time to freeze tuition and fully fund SUNY and CUNY," said Alex Bornemisza, NYPIRG Board Chairperson and SUNY Buffalo State College student.
In December, Gov. Cuomo vetoed legislation that would have strengthened the Maintenance of Effort (the commitment of the state to maintain current funding) for SUNY and CUNY. Five more years of tuition hikes are proposed in the Executive Budget.
Organizing for the action day, NYPIRG and USS collected 28,000 petition signatures from SUNY and CUNY students calling for a tuition freeze. They also mobilized student support for a stronger maintenance of effort provision of the state education law, so tuition dollars won’t have to go to cover basic inflationary costs for energy, rent and collective bargaining that should be funded by the state.
Since 2008, SUNY and CUNY have lost $1.5 billion in state funding, threatening the quality of public higher education and driving up tuition and student loan debt for students and their families. The proposed Executive Budget holds state funding for SUNY’s state-operated colleges essentially flat—as academic programs and student services are starved for resources. As part of a complicated plan to shift costs on to New York City and spur resolution of long-expired collective bargaining agreements, the budget proposes a jaw-dropping 30 percent reduction in state funding for CUNY senior colleges.
The Executive Budget also leaves community colleges without the funding they need, even after years of investments by the Legislature. Students and faculty called for a $250 per-student increase in state base aid to community colleges. Better financial aid, investments in the state’s teaching hospitals, and restorations for opportunity programs and other student success initiatives were also part of the platform endorsed by the student and faculty groups. The platform also called on the Legislature to reject the fundamental restructuring of CUNY funding.
This is a crucial year for SUNY and CUNY, a year when the choices legislators make could affect the quality of public higher education in New York for decades to come. The stakes are high for students and their families, for university faculty and staff, and for the future of New York State.