The city should ease the path to college for top high school students by promising them free tuition at city colleges, Comptroller John Liu said today in a “State of the City” speech, his second in 2012.
In the speech, Liu put forth a slate of policy proposals, including several focused on education, that he said would enhance the city’s economic future. Liu is a likely mayoral candidate, but as comptroller his job is to safeguard the city’s financial prospects.
“The offer of free tuition would help motivate students and elevate CUNY, one of our city’s most valuable gems, to the level of a competitive prize,” Liu said, according to his prepared remarks. “It would also be a life-saver for many working families who are struggling to send their kids to college.”
Liu did not explain how the city could fund the initiative, but it would not cost much. With tuition set at $5,400 a year, even if every student in the top 10 percent of each graduating class enrolled and would not ordinarily receive financial aid — an unlikely scenario — paying their way would cost less than $12 million a year.
Other proposals Liu made today would cost the city a lot more.
He proposed spending $75 million a year to provide home visits by nurses to thousands of needy families with young children, $32 million a year to give computers to students at high-poverty middle schools, and $176 million a year to add more guidance counselors to city high schools. Liu first proposed expanding the city’s fleet of guidance counselors in October, arguing that the expenditure would pay for itself with economic contributions from people who would not have gone to college without the counselors’ help.
And he said he would add social services to every city school, something the teachers union and city are jointly attempting in six schools this year, at a price tag of $100,000 a school. Liu said the proposal was inspired by a trip he took with City Council Speaker Christine Quinn to Cincinnati, which has embraced the “community schools” model that the union has been promoting.
“I’d like to see every New York City public school become a community center before and after school,” Liu said. “In addition to after-school programs, it could include a health clinic, and offer resources to parents and adults in the evenings, like tax advisory services and financial literacy courses.”
Most mayoral candidates were slow to respond to Liu’s proposals today. But Tom Allon, whose candidacy as a Republican suffered a blow this week with the possible entrance to the race of former MTA Chairman Joseph Lhota, said he supported Liu’s call for a tuition break for top students and noted that it would require only a small expenditure. “Anything we can do to incentivize high school students to graduate and achieve high grades is a good public policy in my book,” Allon said.
The portion of Liu’s speech that focused on education is below:
We’ve discussed how we can make our workplaces and our tax code more equitable. Now we need to talk about how to get our young people into the workplace and how to develop our future workforce and taxpayers. This requires a cradle-to-career approach in order to avoid a school-to-prison pipeline. There has been a lot of talk in this City about improving high school graduation rates. And that’s a good thing. But as we all know, in today’s complex economy, it takes a college degree to make a decent living. Yet four out of five New York City public high school students do not graduate from college. Let me repeat: four out of five of our high school students do not graduate from college. In order to maintain New York City’s economic viability, we must work to increase the proportion of New Yorkers with either an associates or a bachelor’s degree from where it is now, at 42 percent, to 60 percent by the year 2025. New York City should be the education capital of the country. Right now, we lag behind Seattle, San Francisco, and Boston. It’s time we reverse New York’s education gap and put our public schools back on track. Earlier this year, along with Speaker Quinn, and many of our City’s teachers, I visited the school system in Cincinnati. I was very impressed by what I saw there. Cincinnati, a city that is home to some of the poorest neighborhoods in the country, takes a holistic approach to education, an approach we can learn a lot from. We know, from our own research, that we have to start early; even before formal education begins. In fact, in certain situations, even before children are born. The Nurse Family Partnership provides critical in-home prenatal care for Medicaid- eligible firsttime mothers, and continues parental support for up to 2 years after a child is born. For less than $75 million annually we can expand this program in NYC from the 2,400 families it now serves to 14,500 families. And what does the Nurse Family Partnership do? It results in higher scores on children’s reading and math achievement tests. It produces a 67 percent reduction in behavioral and intellectual problems per child at age 6. It improves a child’s cognitive ability and language development and reduces language delays. In short, it makes kids from struggling families better able to handle school. The initial Nurse Family Partnership program in Elmira, N.Y., is now on track to save as much as $4 in taxpayer money for every dollar the program costs. Now that’s what I call a real return on investment. Once children are in school, we need to continue to partner with their families. When our Secretary of State was first lady she said: It takes a village to raise a child. And she was right. By the way, I think the world of Secretary Clinton and eagerly await her announcement to jump into the New York City mayoral race… But seriously, families need to know that there is support for them in the community. That there are people who care. That’s why I’d like to see every New York City public school become a community center before and after school. In addition to after-school programs, it could include a health clinic, and offer resources to parents and adults in the evenings, like tax advisory services and financial literacy courses. We know that middle school is a particularly vulnerable time for kids. So we need to do more to support our middle school students. In fact, my son Joey is in middle school. We are privileged today by the presence of a group of very impressive fifth and sixth graders from PS 45 in South Ozone Park, Queens. These kids are on the student council and are here with their principal, Samantha Severin. Please stand up and say hello to everyone. Thank you for coming. Middle school students often need extra help. That is why I believe we need to expand the Computers for Youth program to every public middle school in New York City where at least 75 percent of the students receive free lunch. Computers for Youth provides refurbished computers, pre-loaded with educational software, to 6th graders. The program teaches these students and their families how to use the computers. And we can expand this program for only $32 million annually. In today’s day and age, no child, regardless of their family’s income, should live without a computer and internet access in their home. We also know that guidance counselors are particularly important for college success. Best practices advise that guidance counselors have caseloads no larger than 100. But in the New York City public schools the average is 259 students to one counselor, and many of our counselors are struggling to care for more than 400 students on their own. I proposed in October that we change the current unmanageable ratio from 259 students to 100 students per counselor. This will cost $176 million, or about $2,000 per high school student. We already spend $227,000 on every New York City public school child’s education, kindergarten through twelfth grade. Why not give that child the best chance to succeed, for just another $2,000 per kid? And there are other things we can do. We know from the great results at some of the newest specialized high schools: American Studies at Lehman College as well as Math, Science, and Engineering at City College, that putting a high school on a college campus can create wonderful synergies. Why can’t we do this for every New York City public high school? We don’t have to move the schools. We can create sister college relationships for every high school with the many terrific colleges and universities we have right here in New York City. We happen to have with us today a class of 12th-grade government students from one of New York City’s historic high schools, Abraham Lincoln in Coney Island. They are here with their teacher, Ellen Levitt. Can you all stand up? We are also honored to have Mr. George Israel here with us today. He graduated from Abraham Lincoln 64 years ago. George, can you stand up? There is a lot we can do to make sure our kids graduate from college. In addition to the Macaulay Honors Program that already exists at CUNY, we can and should offer free CUNY tuition to the top 10 percent of New York City public high school graduates. Top graduates from every New York City high school should be eligible for this program. The offer of free tuition would help motivate students and elevate CUNY, one of our City’s most valuable gems, to the level of a competitive prize. It would also be a life-saver for many working families who are struggling to send their kids to college. We must do more to make college affordable. … Let’s bring diversity to New York City’s Specialized High Schools, so that every child has access to an elite education and the privileges that go with it. Let’s help President Obama, who has worked so hard for all of us, pass the DREAM Act so that immigrants can pursue a higher education. As many of you know, I came to this country as a five-year-old from Taiwan who didn’t speak a word of English. And if it wasn’t for the great public school teachers I had at PS 203 in Flushing and at Hunter High School and at Bronx Science, I would never be where I am today. In addition to benefiting from a first-rate New York City public school education, I had a tightknit family and community behind me, supporting me every step of the way. We need to reweave the fabric of our communities and neighborhoods so that we catch every kid before they fall. That’s the way we will minimize gun violence on our streets. That’s the way we will get every kid to earn a college degree. That’s the way we can help every New Yorker achieve their full potential.