Unions, Advocates Call for More Higher Education Funding in NY

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Students and faculty members from state universities in New York are joining together to push for increased funding for higher education.

Hundreds of protesters gathered at New York’s Capitol as a hearing was being conducted by state Legislature to discuss the investment into the state’s higher education system.

“We cannot plan the future of our state university on yesterday’s dollars,” said SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher at the budget hearing on Tuesday.. “While, with your continued support, we have been rebuilding New York’s investment in higher education, there remains much more we can — and must — do.”

The SUNY system is asking for $600 million each year over the next five years in order to cover campus renovations and a number of “SUNY-wide” initiatives including an online learning platform called Open SUNY.  The money would be imperative to helping the system realize its goal of graduating 150,000 people each year by 2020.

However, that goal is hard to reach as the pool of potential college-ready students drops.  According to Zimpher, of every 100 ninth graders in the New York State, around 73 will graduate high school, with only 51 will go directly to college.  Only 23 of those students will graduate on time.

“My read on other social challenges is exactly this: If we had better educated populations, we would educate more of our children,” Zimpher said. “We would be healthier. We would vote more. We would see less people in the criminal justice system… all accompany a good education.”

Fred Kowal, president of union United University Professions, which represents academic and professional faculty at SUNY, also spoke at the meeting on Tuesday, asking legislators to make changes to benefit students across the state, calling Governor Cuomo’s proposed budget “a trend of the state’s disinvestment in public higher education.”  He went on to ask that parts of the budget be dismissed, including those that would disallow the SUNY system to offer a well-balanced education to its students, such as closing the university teaching programs based on low scores, and not giving enough financial support to students who graduate with large quantities of debt, writes Brittany Horn for The Times Union.

“For far too long, the state has depended on students for the bulk of SUNY funding,” Kowal said. “Students, through tuition and fees, account for approximately 63 percent of SUNY’s funding.”

Governor Andrew Cuomo has asked the state for an additional $60 million in funding for higher education in his $142 billion state budget proposal, in addition to changes that would make funding linked to performance rather than enrollment.

Cuomo is also asking student loans be forgiven for certain graduates who live in the state, free tuition for students who agree to enter the teaching profession, and increased spending by $50 million for the SUNY system.

Over 1.3 million people enroll in the state’s system of public universities, colleges and community colleges each year.  The system is made up of 64 schools located across the state, which graduates around 93,000 students each year.