Will our school’s financial problems be the death of quality education? by Stephanie Sepulveda
City College is facing a massive budget crisis. In a series of meetings held earlier this fall, President Lisa Coico informed students, faculty, and staff that City College is struggling with a $14.6 million funding shortfall. In what faculty members have described as a doomsday scenario, this deficit could decimate the college’s resources, leading to a reduction in the number of courses offered and the instructors who teach them, less support and fewer services, and another tuition hike. At worst, many students will not be able to take the courses they need to graduate, which could drag City College’s already-troublesome graduation rate (currently about 42 percent) down even further.
The Bottom Line
City College, and all of CUNY, has been attacked on several fronts. First, state funding was cut by $4.2 million, a trend that is affecting colleges and universities across the country. CUNY also reduced funding to City College by an additional $1.7 million at the same time that college costs increased, mainly in the areas of faculty, staff and temp services. Enrollment has also dropped, leading to a tuition shortfall of $3.3 million. Unfortunately, City College hasn’t been able to match its tuition target since the 2013-2014 fiscal years, and is 70% dependent on tuition to stay operational. (To review all of the details of the budget crisis, click here.)
Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC) which represents faculty and staff at CUNY, blames the “rational tuition” policy, also known as the SUNY 2020 plan, for this reduction in state funding. Every year since 2011, tuition has increased $300. “We foresaw that annual tuition increases for students would become an excuse for not providing adequate state operating funds,” said Bowen. “That’s exactly what has happened.” She and others also blame “a proliferation of high-paid management positions” as well as the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on the CUNYfirst system.
Ryan Carson, project coordinator for the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) at CCNY, adds: “Every time I enter a classroom and talk about how important it is for our students to vote and I mention the SUNY 2020, students have no idea what that is. When I explain it, they are extremely upset.”
One thing that apparently hasn’t exacerbated City College’s budget problems is the new CUNY medical school. President Coico says that rumors that the Sophie Davis expansion caused the deficit are unfounded. “It’s not true,” she insists. “[The med school] has no budgetary impact.”
Twenty years ago, officials took drastic measures to manage a similar situation. In the spring of 1995, with a $6 million budget deficit, City College president Yolanda Moses closed the School of Nursing, an institution which had hundreds of enrolled students and a three-year waiting list for admission. She also shut down the theater, dance, and physical education departments and let go of 45 faculty members that year.
The present situation is not yet that extreme. At this point, all administration divisions are expected to apply a 5 percent reduction as well as a 3.6 percent reduction to all academic divisions. Funding for WHCR, City College’s community radio station, has already been cut and the college has instituted a hiring freeze throughout the campus. Students should expect long lines in financial aid and the bursar’s office and a shortage of classes offered when registration rolls around.
Some divisions will take a bigger hit than others. The School of Education saw the steepest drop in enrollment, making it responsible for 43 percent of the college’s lost revenue, and will therefore need to cut over $1.6 million from its budget. Enrollment revenue dropped even more in the Division of Humanities and Arts, which has been told to cut spending by $2.3 million. Other subject areas, including the Division of Science, the Grove School of Engineering, and Sophie Davis actually increased enrollment revenue, though each will still have to endure cuts.
Students who are aware of the budget problems are shocked. “This is awful!” said Shannon Henry, a psychology major. “You want to pride yourself on different classes that you take. A school that offers interesting classes to expand what you want to learn is what you want to attend. I am a psychology major and it was difficult to find classes this semester. I don’t know about the next one.”
Many faculty members are also aggravated by the situation. “Is our chancellor taking budget cuts?” asked a professor at one of the budget information sessions. According to recent news reports, CUNY Chancellor Milliken earns $670,000 a year and the university pays for his $19,000-a-month luxury apartment on the Upper East Side.
“Are you kidding me?” said an electrical engineering major who spoke on condition of anonymity. “That’s where the budget cuts should be, if you ask me. No one is paying my way through school, or my rent for that matter.”
Carson agrees, saying: “If our elected officials have the real say in what happens to our education, they should invest in it. It’s upsetting.”
Faculty members are using budget meetings as a venue to voice their concerns directly to President Coico, including the suggestion that she should object more vocally to the chancellor about the negative impact of the current budget. “I have no say in what our budget is going to be,” says President Coico, “but I am optimistic that we can come up with creative solutions to get us by.”
In Carson’s words: “We’re creating a generation of debtors. When the student loan debt is higher than credit card debt, you know there is a problem here.” This is a problem that is going to get worse before it gets better. Once again CUNY has slipped through the cracks and we, the students, are left to pick up the pieces.