Hands off CUNY

As the April 1 deadline neared for the next state budget, it appeared Gov. Andrew Cuomo had backed down on his threat to slash nearly $400 million from CUNY in a move to force the city university system to become more efficient.

The governor changed lanes after CUNY employees, students and supporters mounted a protest outside his Manhattan office last month to decry the cut.

Angry activists pointed out that Cuomo was severing a critical resource for CUNY while at the same time backing a $15-an-hour minimum wage and pushing paid family leave. The dissonant approach mystified some political observers.

For many New Yorkers, particularly poor families and immigrants, CUNY is a way out of poverty and into the economic mainstream of the city.

The leaders of CUNY College foundations got into the act, taking out ads in city newspapers to urge the governor and the state Legislature to maintain their investment in the system. The full-page ad said late Intel CEO Andy Grove called his alma mater the “American Dream Machine.”

CUNY is a steal in today’s tuition free-for-all that has seen costs skyrocket to $60,000 a year at the most competitive private colleges.

Tuition at CUNY’s four-year colleges such as Queens College—known as the “jewel in the crown” of the system—is $5,430 a year. The Flushing institution frequently appears among the best values in the college-rankings lists.

At CUNY’s community colleges the annual tab is $3,900. LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City bills itself the “world’s community college” based on its diverse student body from 160 different countries. It has been voted one of the top three large community colleges in the United States.

The academics at many CUNY colleges are challenging and prepare graduates to excel in a number of fields. CUNY has produced its share of Rhodes scholars and two Nobel laureates so far this decade.

After announcing his plans to require the city to pick up $465 million in state funding for CUNY, Cuomo faced outrage from many quarters.

Perhaps the governor realized he had overplayed his hand. Bowing to pressure, he said last week he would keep CUNY’s $1.6 billion budget untouched and his director of operations told The New York Times that the governor’s threat had been a negotiating tactic to force the system to streamline its spending. An overseer will monitor CUNY spending.

CUNY is one of Queens’ and the city’s most precious resources. Its mission is too important to be used as a bargaining chip in Albany’s budget hijinks.

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