Milliken offers worst-case scenario in Albany testimony

Edwin Morel

Courtesy of CUNY Office of Communitcation & Marketing
Chancellor James B. Milliken delivered testimony on the proposed 2016–17 New York state executive budget before lawmakers on Feb. 8. The chancellor spoke out in support of CUNY’s mission to its students, and he emphasized the possibility of a new contract for faculty and staff.

Responding to the cavernous difference between what was requested by CUNY and what was allocated in the proposed state budget, Milliken told lawmakers that significant cuts would have to be made, although he was “certainly not planning for that.”

Milliken said, “Numerous colleges, depending on how you did this, would have to be closed.” He added, “or you’d take a 30-percent decrease across the entire system,” according to coverage of the post-testimony back and forth between the chancellor and lawmakers provided by Politico New York.

Higher education accounts for 6 percent of the proposed state budget, a total of $10,215,448,000, which is a 2.6 percent decrease from last year. CUNY, one of five funded agencies in the higher education portion of the proposed budget, will be allotted 11 percent of that total, which is an approximate cut of $400 million in funding from the previous budget.

Milliken spoke on the need for an increased budget to implement a new university-wide strategic plan and master plan. It will ensure students are more competitive in the workforce and graduates continue to play a leading role in the benefit of the state. “About 75 percent of the graduates of New York City’s high schools who attend college come to CUNY,” said Milliken

The proposed budget for CUNY in 2016–17 is the lowest allocation for the institution since 2008–09; however, student enrollment has continued to experience record-breaking increases.

278,000 students were enrolled in CUNY for the 2015 Fall semester. An all-time high, this past fall’s enrollment reflects a 42 percent increase from 2000—when the budget for CUNY was still under a billion dollars. The budget has increased during that same time frame 43.9 percent. When the Rational Tuition Plan was in effect from 2010–15, enrollment grew by over five percent, “essentially the size of a new campus” said Milliken.

Addressing the impact that CUNY students have on the current workforce, Milliken said, “graduates who earned their degrees from CUNY over the past 40 years earn $63 million a year, nearly all of that in New York atate where they go on to live and work, and that is twice what they would earn if they held only high-school diplomas.”

CUNY had requested over $1.5 billion in their 2016-17 request, but approximately a quarter of that is not funded under the proposed state executive budget. Milliken went on to address the contract for faculty and staff. “[Faculty] earn Fulbrights, MacArthurs, and competitive grants in record number, and they are recognized for their excellent teaching as well as their research and creative activity.”

Faculty and staff have worked without a contract for more than five years. After declining CUNY’s offer for a 6-percent wage increase over six years, the Professional Staff Congress remains without a contract. CUNY has been seeking support from the state and city in agreement with other state unions since last year, when Milliken last spoke on the issue.

“I can say without equivocation that my highest priority as well as that of the board of trustees and the college presidents is to get this contract settled and pay the increases to which our over 45,000 faculty and staff are entitled,” said Milliken.

CUNY is most recognized for its high-quality and affordable education, giving lower-income denizens an opportunity to attend college. Milliken pointed out that half of all people from high-income families have a bachelor’s degree by 25 in contrast to the one-in-10 people from low-income families who have a bachelor’s degree. “When children born into the bottom fifth of income distribution—many of CUNY’s students—get a college degree, their chances of making it to the top fifth nearly quadruple,” said the chancellor.

In its proposed state budget, CUNY had asked for $26.3 million in community college aid. “We have committed to freezing community college tuition next year. Thus, 100,000 of our students will see no change,” said Milliken.

Milliken discussed restoring $2.5 million for the Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, which launched in 2007 to help motivate students to earn their degree quickly and ensure a higher graduation rate, has continued to experience success and growth. The program has received nationwide recognition for their 55 percent three-year graduation rate, which is more than triple the national rate for urban community colleges.

Milliken reiterated his support for a rational tuition hike for senior colleges. “I am very sympathetic to our student leaders who oppose tuition increases, but the truth is we have one of the lowest tuition levels in the country, and today approximately 80 percent of our associate and bachelor’s degree graduates leave with zero federal debt.”

Raising tuition puts CUNY in position to invest in new faculty and academic advisors in order to improve the quality services provided to students and to give them a better chance of graduating on time. The previous rational tuition hike program allowed CUNY to add 1,000 new full-time faculty.