Over the last five years, York’s student government has dished out nearly all of its $1 million in reserve funds to support budget gaps and contribute to operational costs at the university.
Expenses fronted have included library and lounge furniture, 145 computers to be installed around the school, and cleaning carts for the custodial staff.
Some academic departments are even looking to the student government to supplement inadequacies in budgets.
According to Student Government president Krishan Vnu, this year $70,000 in student money went toward the school’s commencement because of additional costs incurred to pay for an outside venue. This is because the performing arts center where the ceremony normally takes place has been closed indefinitely due to mold.
And York College still faces issues of underpaid faculty, dilapidated facilities and lack of basic services, such as a cafeteria that has been inoperable for a long time, leaving students with emptying vending machines as the only source of food on campus.
“What concerns me is that this is just York College, but we know a lot of these issues are rampant throughout the CUNY system,” said Public Advocate Jumaane Williams - a product of CUNY himself - following a tour of York College last week to assess the impact of funding cuts.
Williams was joined by student leaders and faculty in calling on city and state officials to increase investments in the CUNY system. For decades, CUNY has consistently represented an institution that fosters opportunities for economic mobility in the city’s most vulnerable communities.
“There’s world-class education that people are able to obtain here in CUNY, but we’re at a precipice now where we can go backwards on that,” Williams said. “Right now, we are saying that even though CUNY is the economic engine that it is, it is not a priority to put funding in.”
The public advocate’s visit came one day after his office submitted testimony pushing for additional funding and a reduction in student costs to the CUNY Board of Trustees at a hearing in which it considered a $200 tuition hike in addition to a new $60 “wellness fee” per semester.
Earlier this month, the public advocate’s office released a report that analyzes the current funding crisis faced by the CUNY system. As the university shifted to a tuition model from a free education outlet over the years, tuition and enrollment have increased while investment declined on a city and state level.
From 2008 to 2017, per-student funding from the state dropped by 18 percent, adjusted for inflation and enrollment growth. With limited resources, the CUNY system must rely on underpaid adjunct faculty, many of whom work additional jobs to make ends meet.
The university has also been forced to cut student support services such as academic and mental health advisors or writing center hours, as well as course selections.
In 2016, one-third of CUNY students reported they were unable to register for at least one course, largely because no seats remained.
“Systemic underfunding amid a period of massive enrollment growth limits CUNY’s ability to maintain educational and operational excellence and alleviate the financial burden of thousands of students, most of whom come from low-income backgrounds, are people of more color, and graduated from NYC public schools,” the report reads.
Further, the public advocate’s report found that 60 percent of students come from households with an income of less than $30,000.
At the same time, a March 2019 survey showed that nearly half of the 22,000 respondents at 19 CUNY campuses are food or housing insecure. Some students are even sleeping on campuses because they cannot afford housing.
“Sixty bucks a semester is a lot of money if you just don’t have it,” Williams said, referring to the CUNY Board’s proposed fee. “And it’s not in isolation, it’s going on top of the fees that already exist.”
The report from the public advocate’s office outlines solutions for the city and state to implement in order to safeguard CUNY’s sustainability, and take steps to bring the institution back toward a tuition-free model.
They include expanding access to tuition assistance programs and closing gaps between maximum grant awards and in-state tuition rates, increasing the percentage and number of full-time faculty, and raising adjunct salaries to a minimum of $7,000 a course, or double the current average.
As for York College, Fnu is hoping that CUNY approves a new proposed budget for the school, which would give student government a break from picking up the slack.
“We would rather be using the money to support different club events,” Fnu explained. “We want to do workshops for students to empower them, like financial literacy, and bring guest speakers in.”