When I became president of UUP in 2013, I promised our members—and myself—that I wouldn’t simply be a voice opposing SUNY proposals that detract from the University and our union.
My priority is to come up with our own plans. We would offer viable alternatives to promote access, affordability and quality at SUNY.
And that’s what we’ve done.
Since 2010, SUNY has been forced to deal with hundreds of millions in state aid cuts, years of virtually flat state funding, and the ever-increasing expense of higher education for our students.
It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to recognize that there needs to be a plan to properly fund SUNY, a plan to ensure an accessible, affordable, quality public higher education for all New Yorkers, now and in the future.
That’s why UUP has developed a series of initiatives, and a realistic, achievable, multifaceted plan for the success of our students and the SUNY system.
It starts with the creation of a permanent SUNY endowment to provide a long-term funding source for the University. Endowments are commonplace; most states have them. This endowment would help rebuild SUNY academic departments depleted by chronic underfunding, and provide opportunities for part-time employees to go full-time.
In addition, UUP believes the state should provide at least half of SUNY’s funding, and not rely on students and parents to cover the lion’s share. Yet students, through tuition and fees, pay 63 percent of SUNY’s funding. That’s unfair and it’s not right. When more than half of SUNY’s funding comes largely from student tuition, that’s not a public university anymore. It’s a private university that receives some public funding.
The state, at the very least, should cover half of SUNY’s funding.
To provide a strong financial foundation for SUNY, there must be a genuine Maintenance of Effort that reflects the University’s needs. This requirement will include funding for SUNY’s hospitals and encompass the basic expenses of its state-operated campuses, as well as the cost of collective bargaining agreements.
UUP is also formalizing our legislative proposal called BOSS, or Bringing Opportunities for Student Success.
Under BOSS, campuses would be awarded supplementary funds for hiring more full-time faculty and staff, and moving adjunct faculty to full-time positions. Campuses that aggressively pursue a more diverse faculty, staff and student body, and expand programs that aid underprepared and under-resourced students would also be eligible for BOSS funding.
However, the creation of BOSS is contingent upon the state providing at least half of SUNY’s funding, and agreeing to a genuine Maintenance of Effort.
These days, an undergraduate degree isn’t a choice, it’s a necessity. Much like a high school diploma was in the 1970s, earning an undergraduate degree is a must in the 21st century. By 2020, 65 percent of all jobs will require a college degree. An educated citizenry is crucial for our democracy.
To address this, UUP is in the process of researching and developing a program that would help students identify potential career paths, apply for college and financial aid, and prepare for college challenges. This program would provide guidance and support to underrepresented and under-resourced families and students.
Getting students into college is important, but so is helping them pay for their education. That’s why we’re proposing the SUNY Student Loan Refinancing program.
Under the plan, SUNY student borrowers can refinance loans at a much lower interest rate than they currently pay. The program, administered by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation, would place a fixed interest rate on refinanced loans, based on the 10-year Treasury note rate. Borrowers can further reduce interest rates by 1 percent after making 61 on-time payments.
This would help ease a financial burden that has reached crisis proportions. Statewide, 2.8 million New Yorkers owe $73.2 billion in student loans.
And UUP’s proposed new SUNY-employed Adjuncts Loan Forgiveness Program would provide student loan relief for overworked, underpaid adjuncts.
So, how would we fund these programs? A prime funding source would be a portion of the state’s recent multi-billion dollar legal settlements with big banks. I can think of no better use for millions of dollars of ill-gotten gains than to use them to rebuild SUNY to benefit our state and its residents.
Our public higher education system is far too important to just be maintained. It should be—and can be—a hallmark institution serving the best interest of New York’s students for generations to come.