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Speaker slams Bloomberg on CUNY funding proposal

During his visit, Miller lauded the CUNY system's accessibility to diverse students and slammed Mayor Michael Bloomberg for not securing more money for the schools.

"I am appalled by the lack of commitment by the mayor in the budget" to the schools, Miller told a group of about 50 students, faculty and supporters gathered in the basement of the library. "It's an attack on an institution that is at the heart of the city."

"We are committed to restoring funds that Bloomberg's administration has proposed to cut," he added.

Miller said that while there was no specific dollar amount for the proposed cuts, many fear the elimination of a popular scholarship program, which would hurt many at the community college, part of the city university system.

Current tuition at QCC and the five other community colleges is about $2,800 a year, according to the CUNY Web site, while the tuition at the 11 four-year CUNY institutions such as Queens College is $4,000 a year. Last year's record tuition hike raised by bill at two-year colleges by 12 percent, or $300 a year, and boosted the costs at four-year schools by 25 percent, or $800 a year.

The City University of New York schools, which were free to New York residents until 1976, serve 450,000 students, with more than 10,000 students enrolled at QCC alone. According to QCC, its students come from households with a median income of between $15,000 and $24,999, and more than 72 percent of students work while attending school.

City Councilman David Weprin (D-Hollis) also made an appearance at the rally, noting that he had been successful in bringing $4 million for capital projects, including the much-applauded bus stop that enabled students to pick up the bus directly from campus.

"Under Miller, we were able to bring the Q27 onto campus with a brand new bus turnaround," Weprin said. He later said he did not see a problem with preserving the original budget and even restoring the funding to previous higher levels.

"The legacy of New York City is that we embrace people from all around the world," Miller said, noting that the school's diverse student body is estimated to be nearly 50 percent foreign-born. "No institution is more central to the completion of that mission than CUNY."

Jorge Fanjul, the QCC student government president who graduated last week with a liberal arts associate's degree and is heading to SUNY-Stony Brook to pursue a bachelor's degree, spoke on behalf of the student body at the rally.

"This is the system that takes students who normally couldn't go to college, and it takes them to the next level," he said. "If the mayor is allowed to pass these budget cuts, CUNY will lose students."

"Seventy-five percent of CUNY students receive financial aid," Fanjul said. He added that CUNY has the third most expensive community college system in the country.

"It's amazing, the difference that a community college can make in a life," Miller said. "It's in the millions of New Yorkers who want just a chance to get a good job and support their children and families and live the American dream."

He said a jeopardized program designed to aid students with good grades but little money was created by the City Council in honor of a its former speaker from Astoria. The Peter F. Vallone Academic Scholarship is given to all New York high school graduates attending a CUNY school who maintained at least a B average and successfully completed 12 College Preparatory Initiative (Regents-level) yearlong courses.

"Perhaps the most important message to send to young people in the city is that 'we believe in you and want to support you,'" Miller said.

Miller anticipated resolving the funding debate by the time the budget is set to be passed on July 1.

"When you help somebody get an education, they make more money, pay more taxes, create more jobs," Miller said. "But from a human point of view, when you help somebody build a better life, you're making that dream come true for yet another New Yorker."

Reach reporter Sophia Chang by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 146.

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