Unions and college students called on lawmakers Tuesday to increase state funding to public colleges and broaden eligibility for tuition assistance, including allowing illegal immigrants financial help.
More than 400 students joined leaders from New York State United Teachers, United University Professions and the New York Public Interest Research Group Tuesday for a lobby day. At a noon press conference, speakers implored the state Legislature to restore cuts the State University of New York, community colleges and New York City’s public schools have endured in recent years.
“I’m sorry to say that I think we are on the cusp of a very quiet crisis in education—in this country, and especially, here in New York state,” UUP President Phillip Smith said at the event. “The promise of a quality, affordable, accessible higher education is becoming less and less of a reality because the state has gone into a process of cutting back.”
The advocates specifically pointed to community colleges, which they said are key to the state’s economy as they educate much of its workforce.
The state Assembly proposed in its one-house budget to increase community college funding by $150 per full-time equivalent student. Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed level funding in his budget.
The unions asked for an increase of $260 per student.
“Right now, community college students are paying 50 percent of operating costs,” said Ellen Schuler Mauk, NYSUT community college conference chair and professor at Suffolk County Community College. “We want to reverse that trend.”
Speakers also pushed for the Legislature to pass the NY DREAM Act, which would allow illegal immigrants who came to the United States as children and attended New York high schools to access public tuition assistance.
Barbara Bowen, president of the Professional Staff Conference, a City University of New York union, called the DREAM Act “visionary and sweeping and a moral victory for every person in this state.”
Frisly Soberanis, a Guatemalan immigrant and Brooklyn College student, said he can only take one class per semester because he cannot access financial aid and must work to support his family.
“It’s something that tells the immigrant communities: we know you’re here, and we support you,” he said, referring to the bill.