Shaun Donovan

Shaun Donovan, the former secretary of the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, is among several mayoral candidates who responded to The Envoy’s survey on CUNY policy. The following are Donovan’s raw answers to the survey. To read the article summarizing and explaining the mayoral candidates’ survey responses, click here.

1. What role do you believe the city and state should play in funding community colleges? Should such colleges be tuition-free? 

CUNY is a New York City gem–historically it has been an engine for economic mobility for generations of New Yorkers, and as mayor I recognize that New York City’s recovery from our current crises will very much depend on CUNY. As one of the few mayoral candidates with explicit plans involving CUNY, I am very committed to keeping CUNY affordable at both the community and senior college level and resourced to deliver high-quality education that enables its graduates to achieve their dreams. Read my full education plan here

Currently the City provides the largest share of public funding for CUNY’s community colleges although the State contributes substantially as well, and the State is the largest public funder for senior colleges. Federal funding for Pell grants, student loans, and an array of support programs are also critical for all CUNY campuses. At CUNY the combination of Pell, relatively low tuition rates compared to other public college systems, and relatively generous State and Federal financial aid mean that a substantial share of CUNY’s full-time students attend tuition-free today. 

This is good progress, but we can do better. One way I will make college more affordable is through my Equity Bonds proposal, whereby every child will receive $1,000 in a city-administered savings account, plus up to an additional $2,000 per year for public, charter, and low-income private school students. Under this program, any child born into poverty, regardless of immigration status, can go to school knowing that roughly $50,000 is waiting for them before entering the workforce or pursuing higher education. Read more about the proposal here. 

I support expanding free tuition for college students whose family income is below an established level (New York Excelsior is currently capped at $125K). Unlike Excelsior, however, the program should apply to part-time students who are especially in need in New York where NYS TAP is less generous for part-time students and the NYS Excelsior scholarship does not apply. Today 40% of CUNY’s community college students and 28% of senior college students attend part-time, and these students are more likely to be low-income students of color. Adult students also are more likely to attend part-time. 

Given the current financial realities in New York, which have hit New York’s senior colleges especially hard in recent years, any expansion of a free tuition promise for college will have to come with substantial new funds from the Biden administration that has, fortunately, signaled a high priority around college affordability and success. My long standing relationships with officials from the Biden administration, including President Biden and Vice President Harris, put me in a unique position to advocate for our city and get the resources that we need. 

It is also important to recognize that the non-tuition costs of attending CUNY dwarf full tuition. Providing free tuition leaves out the cost of housing, food, childcare, books, and fees. Many CUNY students are homeless or unstably housed, and many more struggle to afford adequate food. Any free tuition plan needs to consider these other costs as well. The new administration proposes a free tuition program for community college and senior college affordability proposals including income-based tuition-free college, which free up Pell grants to help fund non-tuition expenses and greatly increase Pell grant amounts and eligibility. 

President Biden also supports substantial increases to pay for child care and grants to provide wrap-around academic and non-academic support to students. Special increases are called for to support “Minority Serving Institutions,” a category that includes Hunter and other CUNY colleges. I will loudly advocate for passage of all of these Federal initiatives. 

As a former NYC and Federal housing secretary, I have extensive plans to improve housing affordability in NYC that will benefit CUNY students, along with all New Yorkers. We must prioritize properly investing in the preservation and expansion of affordable housing throughout our city, as well as providing assistance to rent-burdened New Yorkers at risk of becoming homeless. We need to move from a right to shelter to a right to housing, ensure tenants have adequate access to counsel, and partner with the federal government to ensure our city receives the support it needs. Read my entire Housing Platform here

Finally, it is important to note that CUNY needs additional funding to add diverse full-time faculty and to raise pay for teaching adjuncts. Facilities need upgrading across the system, and funds are needed for academic support programs and other student needs. We have to prioritize our scarce public resources to ensure that CUNY can deliver academic excellence and that students complete degrees of value in the marketplace. 

2. What role do you believe the state should play in funding senior colleges? Should such colleges be tuition-free? 

Please see my response to Question 1. 

3. How would you expand job opportunities for CUNY students and graduates? 

A major theme of my entire campaign is the creation of good jobs and new economic opportunities to restart New York City’s economy. I will also insist that these opportunities benefit communities of color that have not been allowed to fully participate in previous economic expansions. CUNY’s students and graduates are a critical, diverse talent pipeline that must be tapped to ensure the city’s recovery. 

In the short-term, my administration will establish an Education Recovery Corps, employing CUNY students and graduates to partner with educators to support the academic and social-emotional recovery of our elementary and secondary school students, and to provide immediate employment in their own communities to CUNY students facing economic hardship as a result of the pandemic. I will also create an NYC Climate Corps to employ CUNY students and others on clean energy and resilience projects through nonprofit and local government grants. 

Expanding the number of CUNY students who obtain paid internships during college is also a priority. I want to expand the CUNY Service Corps and Culture Corps, and I will work with the private sector to expand other internship opportunities. I am encouraged by the early work of the CEO Jobs Council and CUNY to offer short-term credentials that lead to paid internships for CUNY students. 

We will also launch a new CUNY Learning Center for 21st Century Skills, bringing together students including adult learners, professors, and employers with talent needs to create opportunities for applied learning through micro-internships, capstones, skill-badging programs, and consulting projects, all in high-growth fields where NYC needs more skilled employees. This includes the growing and innovative fields of life sciences and climate adaptation. 

Finally, my commitment to further diversify NYC’s public schools will draw on CUNY’s education programs, including Hunter’s, to produce diverse educators ready to provide the skills our K-12 students need to succeed. 

4. Would you expand mental health and wellness funding and services for CUNY students? If so, how? 

Mental health issues are a serious concern for students at CUNY, and along with other basic needs like housing and food, must be addressed if students are going to be able to focus on the academic programs that can lift their long-term fortunes. Research shows that students with mental health challenges get worse grades and are more likely to leave school, imperiling their future economic opportunity. Specifically at CUNY, a 2015 survey showed that 18% of CUNY students suffer from depression and 20% from anxiety, and far too many had thoughts of suicide in the year before the survey. All of these data come from before the pandemic, and we can only assume they have worsened recently 

My mental health initiatives across the city will be available to CUNY students and their families. I am pleased that CUNY has already allocated some of the extra funds granted by the Federal government to help with COVID relief to provide more counseling and other wellness services for students. I believe we need even more Federal aid, and would like to see some of it used by CUNY for mental health and other basic student needs. We will also rethink the role of police in responding to mental health emergencies, relying instead on a non-police mental health first responder system. 

5. How would you support CUNY students experiencing food and/or housing insecurity? 

The pandemic has exacerbated existing economic hardships and created new ones, and many CUNY students have been particularly affected. We must fight to reverse the damage that contributes to students failing classes, withdrawing from school, or deferring enrollment in the first place. 

CUNY polled students at the height of the pandemic in spring 2020 and found that 40% of students had lost jobs, 18% had gone hungry, and 50% felt housing insecurity, according to recent testimony before the NYC City Council. 

I support the steps CUNY has taken recently to address its students’ basic needs, raising millions in philanthropic funds for additional food assistance and emergency grants during the pandemic. But much more needs to be done. I would like to see expansion to all senior colleges of the Single Stop program that makes it easy for students to learn about and apply for a range of public benefits and community assistance. CUNY has benefited from recent Federal COVID relief funds that can be used to address students’ basic needs, and we need more Federal funds, which I am optimistic will be approved soon, to fully address these basic needs and help get students back on track to complete their degrees. As mentioned earlier, my experience with the federal government and officials in the current administration put me in a unique position to advocate for and bring additional federal funding to our city. 

6. How would you decide who to appoint to the CUNY board of trustees? It’s critical that the CUNY board of trustees, taken together, reflect the backgrounds and life experiences of the students that CUNY serves, and respect the faculty’s expertise and challenges. They must also bring the full range of skills needed to ensure adequate resources and support for students, to provide responsible and accountable governance of this massive institution, and to help it to thrive academically and financially in the years ahead. I will not use my five appointments to the Board simply to reward political allies. I will consult with members of the CUNY community including students, faculty, the Chancellor, and the Chair of the Board to make sure my appointments add diversity, relevant life experience, and key skills to the Board as a whole.

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