Increase funds for SUNY, CUNY quality

Like many educators throughout New York state, I watched proudly as Kent Knappenberger, a music teacher in the Westfield Central School District, won the first-ever Music Educator Grammy award. Although none of us goes into education seeking that kind of recognition, it was gratifying to see him receive it. As an advocate for public higher education, it made me proud to know he’s one of us – Knappenberger earned his bachelor’s degree in music education at SUNY Fredonia in 1987.

His accomplishment highlights the kind of top-notch education students can receive at SUNY, CUNY and community colleges in New York state. We have a lot to offer, from internationally respected professors, to rigorous programs of study, to top-notch facilities and resources. There’s really no limit to how high students can soar at New York’s public colleges and universities with the right level of commitment and state support.

However, the state’s support has eroded alarmingly over the last five years. Funding for public higher education in New York state has suffered nearly $2 billion in cuts, driving up tuition and endangering quality, affordable higher education for all New Yorkers.

As budgets shrink, colleges and universities face mounting pressure to eliminate programs and courses, erode educational quality and slash opportunities for students in need. If we want to keep our public colleges and universities strong for future generations, New York state must act now to make a greater investment in faculty, staff and student support.

New York State United Teachers, in partnership with its higher education locals, recently launched “Keep New York a State of Mind,” a campaign to encourage investment in public higher education. The union is calling on New York state to support a Public Higher Education Quality Initiative, which would do four things: create an endowment to restore and build SUNY/CUNY academic departments by adding full-time faculty and professional staff; increase operating aid to CUNY and SUNY four-year campuses, and raise base aid for community colleges; invest in student financial aid and opportunity programs; and update and reform the state’s Tuition Assistance Program.

This is an incredibly urgent issue as evidenced by the fact that it’s not just higher ed faculty and staff who are sounding the alarm. The state’s teachers are also lending their voices to the call for increased funding for public colleges and universities. We all love teaching, and we all only want what’s best for our students. And if this pattern of underfunding continues, the dream of higher education for many students will be just that – a dream.

If you believe in the value of public higher education in New York state, I encourage you to add your voice to the movement. Because we still have future Grammy winners to nurture – they just need a helping hand.

To learn more about NYSUT’s “Keep New York a State of Mind” campaign, visit or like us on Facebook at

Andy Sako is department chair and professor in Erie Community College’s Department of Building Management and Maintenance.