Story by Tahreem Ashraf | May 18, 2022
Photos by Alexandra Adelina Nita
The budget approved by the State Legislature and signed by Gov. Kathy Hochul provides a huge boost for CUNY, its biggest in years.
It will enable CUNY to hire hundreds of new faculty, open child-care centers on campus, and plug a gap in the funding for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) – all without increasing tuition. Yet the increase of $240 million is far less than many CUNY advocates had sought, in a campaign they called a “New Deal for CUNY.”
“The opportunity to pursue a quality education is the silver bullet for so many New Yorkers,” Governor Hochul said in a statement. “With this budget we are going to unleash the power of higher education to lift up the people of our state by investing in our institutions and our teachers.”
Hochul, who took office when Gov. Andrew Cuomo resigned and is vigorously running for re-election this fall, has signed off on numerous huge spending projects. On the grassroots level, support and pressure on legislators came from determined lobbying by the New Deal for CUNY movement, an alliance of the Professional Staff Congress, the faculty/staff union;
some legislators, and other CUNY advocates, and the CUNY Rising Alliance, a coalition of student leaders, faculty, and advocacy groups.
State Senator Andrew Gounardes, a Brooklyn Democrat, and Assemblywoman Karines Reyes, a Bronx Democrat and CUNY alumna, were strong advocates.
“When I first got elected, I kept hearing from students about a lot of the challenges they were facing on campuses,” said Gounardes. “There is a huge problem going on at our CUNY system and it all stems from the lack of funding. That’s why I proposed the New Deal.” He said the approved budget, while short of what he sought, was “a pretty big win.”
CUNY was tuition-free from its founding in 1847 until 1976. Years of tight budgets underfunded the system and led to increases in tuition.
“New York has one of the biggest financial aid programs in the country, but it doesn’t cover the 70,000 part-time students and others that fall through the financial cracks,” said Fran Clark, communications director for the Professional Staff Congress, the union of almost 30,000 faculty and staff at CUNY.
As the budget negotiations progressed, CUNY Rising Alliance and PSC hosted multiple rallies and protests including a march on the Brooklyn Bridge on March 6 and a rally in Albany on March 23.
“We’re all here to fight back against decades of disinvestment in higher education, to support students, faculty, staff, and communities of SUNY and CUNY,” Assemblyman Phil Steck, an upstate Democrat, said at the rally.
“The state hasn’t been funding the TAP gap, so the individual campuses have had to make up that funding,” said Stuart Davis, vice chair of the PSC Baruch chapter. “If the state gives more money to CUNY for tuition assistance, then you wouldn’t have this problem.”
“It’s heartening to see that Governor Hochul is acting decisively to begin reversing the years of austerity funding for CUNY, New York’s most powerful force for economic mobility for low-income New Yorkers, immigrants, and students of color,” PSC-CUNY said in a statement.