We can and should ask for great things

On Wednesday, I wrapped up a busy week of travel that started last Saturday with a speaking engagement at Latham, NY, the headquarters of the New York State United Teachers (NYSUT), a federation of more than 1,300 local New York state unions that spans Pre-K , beginning with 12th grade educators, school staff, health workers, college faculty and staff, and government professionals.

I was there to give a talk based on my book Sustainable. Robust. Free.: The Future of Public Higher Education, and I hope attendees have benefited from what I had to say, but I wanted to share something I learned, or perhaps more specifically, what the experience reminded me of : We can and should ask for great things.

The big thing NYSUT is asking for is an additional $4.7 billion in new funding for public higher education in New York State. That includes $1.44 billion in direct operational support “to increase full-time faculty and better pay support staff,” $267.2 million in student support to help with challenges related to food insecurity and mental health , and $3 billion for making CUNY, SUNY, and state community colleges toll-free.

I’ll admit that I gulped a little when I heard that amount, because that’s far more than the usual request in these realms. Usually these motions have an “m” instead of a “b” before the “-illion,” so it’s capital to see that kind of number, $4.7 billion, coupled with an explicit requirement, public post-secondary education make free of charge -B fat.

It is strange that I, the author of a book that specifically calls for post-secondary public education to be made fee-free, should have been somewhat surprised by a proposal to do exactly what I have been campaigning for, but teach us all a lesson to permit.

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So yes, the question is bold and billions of dollars is a lot of money, but relatively speaking, is it really?

For example, $4.7 billion accounts for about 10 percent of Harvard’s endowment.

Harvard serves a total of around 30,000 students, of which just over 7,000 are undergraduates. New York State’s higher education system serves more than 600,000 students.

Four point seven billion is around two percent of the state budget of the previous year. Lots of money again, but it doesn’t seem impossible, especially considering the CUNY and SUNY institutions move graduates up the economic ladder, as demonstrated in Raj Chetty’s work on social mobility.

Four point seven billion is about six percent of former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s net worth. Should Bloomberg decide to throw that money into the system on its own initiative, it would see its fortune dwindle to just over $72 billion.

So yes, big bucks, but not big bucks either, certainly not big bucks compared to its potential to change the fortunes of β€” literally β€” millions of New Yorkers.

The citizens who will benefit go well beyond the students, staff and faculty of these colleges and universities, as we should be aware that schools themselves are rooted in communities that derive many direct and indirect benefits from presence of these institutions.

Colleges serve as hubs for employment, culture, technology, and other activities. The more robust the institution, the greater the broader benefit to the community. As I argue in Sustainable. Robust. Free., Education is rightly viewed as infrastructure, part of the physical resources needed to sustain thriving communities.

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Suddenly that $4.7 billion looks a little easy. Maybe I should call the NYSUT people.

jokingly. One thing I learned at NYSUT headquarters was how thoroughly and accurately funding was calculated to meet needs. This is not a random question. These are institutions and workers that have lived on underfunding for too long, a phenomenon that is by no means unique to New York State and has become so normalized that an organization like NYSUT has come out and said, β€œHey, that’s it what we need to do the job you tell us to do,” this can feel a bit confusing.

In reality, this is just an attempt to put the system back on a truly sustainable footing.

It’s doing well after years of being asked to settle.

There are a few hurdles here, including an elitist mindset exemplified by The New York Times just this morning, as of this writing, when it reviewed Joe Biden’s budget – including a “billionaire tax” – upon arrival in its top-of- Declared dead. the-page online reporting. Instead of analyzing the potential impact of what Biden was proposing for the country, they took over shaping the political struggle through the Republican Party.

Funding for public goods like education need not be political. This is an advantage that applies to everyone.

I stand up for NYSUT, but actually I stand up for the citizens of New York State. Those who embrace this framework of turning education back from a consumer good into “the great leveler” will be ahead of everyone else.

The rest of us, once we see New York State’s success in realigning the system to benefit citizens, will follow suit, but we’ll never be able to catch up.

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I’ve gotten into the habit of not hoping too much in this area, but I have to admit I’m excited.