Funding for Colleges that Promote Economic Mobility: An Economic Justice Issue

An image of Baruch College-City University of New York. It’s one of the best colleges for economic mobility in the United States. It’s also underfunded. Eden, Janine and Jim from New York City / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)

As a son of a professor in the City University of New York (CUNY) system, I have heard tales of all ends of the economic spectrum. It’s a system that has an extraordinarily high percentage of its students in some form of economic struggle—it was reported earlier last year that 49% of students went hungry at some point within that month, while 55% of students lacked a safe place to live during the previous year.[1] Yet, in spite of these extraordinary obstacles that so many students in the CUNY system face, CUNY schools dominate economic mobility lists for colleges.[2]

Systems like CUNY in New York or the University of California (UC) system in California, systems that are engines of economic mobility towards the middle class and even the top 20%, should be supported generously because they lift people out of poverty…and yet they’re not.

I’ve heard this happen in New York. The State of New York, which is supposed to provide the bulk of the money for CUNY funding, has been chronically underfunding CUNY for decades. Under New York’s current governor, Andrew Cuomo (a Democrat), CUNY underfunding has become so bad that colleges like my dad’s have had to make sacrifices such as going without a registrar, cutting class offerings even as the student population grows, raising tuition, and endangering students’ abilities to graduate within four years.[3]

I’ve also read about budget cuts in the University of California (UC) and California State University (Cal State) systems out west. Funding per student in the UC and Cal State systems (systems that are also proven engines of upward economic mobility) have dropped significantly in the past forty years, under both Republican and Democratic governors.[4] And, like in New York, I haven’t heard anything to indicate that the situation is getting any better for public higher education in California.

If anything, the situation is getting worse due to funding cuts during the coronavirus. California Governor Gavin Newsom proposed 10% cuts to the UC and Cal State systems last month,[5] while CUNY is anticipating having to cut thousands of classes and thousands of adjunct and part-time professors.[6]

CUNY, the UC system, and the Cal State system are not the only public university systems being deprived of funding, but these are three notable examples of universities being underfunded in spite of being engines of upward economic mobility.[7] New York and California are not the only places whose leadership has underfunded higher education that promotes economic mobility, but those two states are particularly notable because they have the ability to fully fund or underfund education systems that drive upward economic mobility, which is needed at all times, but even more so during a post-COVID economic recovery.

Underfunding of the CUNYs, UCs, and Cal States of the higher education world must become a prominent economic justice issue. Undermining systems that give students the opportunity to climb out of food and housing stress, and towards a life of economic stability, is economically unjust, not to mention an action that prevents people from seeing the “American Dream” (whatever is left of it) become a reality. It needs to be considered so unjust that it becomes politically dangerous for a politician, Republican or Democrat, to underfund institutions like the ones I’ve mentioned in this piece.

Look at the extent to which the CUNYs, UCs, and Cal States of the world already help people move from food and housing stress and towards the middle and upper class, even with chronic underfunding. It’s truly amazing to think what these institutions, and the students within these institutions, are capable of if they were all funded properly.

If you live in a state that has proposed cuts to higher education, and you’re unsure of whether your legislator is advocating against such cuts, it’s worth giving your state representatives a call.


[1] https://abc7ny.com/education/report-half-of-cuny-students-experienced-hunger-housing-issues/5220690/

[2] What this means is that CUNY lifts a lot of people from the lower class to the middle class: https://www1.cuny.edu/mu/forum/2018/08/20/cuny-again-dominates-chronicles-public-college-social-mobility-rankings/

[3] When it takes more than four years for someone to graduate, that can endanger the state of a student’s financial aid (and drastically increase how much it costs to complete college). For example, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) in New York only goes for four years; if you need a fifth year, then you have no TAP, and the cost of a college education becomes more expensive: https://www.hesc.ny.gov/partner-access/financial-aid-professionals/tap-and-scholarship-resources/tap-coach/95-second-degree.html#:~:text=According%20to%20New%20York%20State,an%20approved%20five%2Dyear%20program.

[4] https://www.ppic.org/publication/higher-education-funding-in-california/ (Note: I don’t know if these measures account for inflation or not; if they don’t, then the decline in funding is even steeper than this piece advertises.)

[5] https://www.sacbee.com/news/politics-government/capitol-alert/article242741996.html

[6] https://www.psc-cuny.org/SaveLivesJobsCUNY

[7] Or, if you’re really cynical, you might even be led to believe that these institutions are being punished because of how they produce so much economic mobility.

Poor Women, Wealthy Men, and the New School Sexual Assault Regulations

Because of the media’s focus on the coronavirus, one story that has gone somewhat (but not completely) under the radar is the changes that United States Education Secretary Betsy DeVos put into place for regulations that replaced Obama-era guidelines on how sexual assault accusations are dealt with at schools.

According to National Public Radio, which did a rather thorough piece on these changes, “Among the most significant changes are new regulations aimed at beefing up protections for accused college students, by mandating live hearings by adjudicators who are neither the Title IX coordinator nor the investigator, and real-time cross examination of each student by the other student’s lawyer or representative.”[1] I want to zero in on the change I quoted here, because this is a regulation that will likely end up harming poor women the most and helping wealthy men the most.

In making this argument, it’s worth saying that the real-time cross examination is something that advocates worry will open up wounds for survivors of the assaults under investigation. While yes, there are absolutely male survivors of sexual assault, as well as survivors who do not fall within the male-female gender binary,[2] this is a change that disproportionately hurts women in general, as women of school age are much more likely to be survivors of sexual violence than men of school age.[3] Therefore, when we’re talking about cross examination opening up wounds for survivors, we are most of the time talking about opening up wounds for female survivors of sexual assault. This change will harm women in general.

However, this change will harm poor women the most. This real-time cross examination by the other student’s lawyer or representative, in effect, results in a double whammy for poor people who are survivors: emotional wounds opened up by cross examination by the defendant, and then an inability to spend the money to hire a good lawyer or representative to answer in any effective way to the cross examination. As most survivors are women, this double whammy for poor people who are survivors will predominantly affect poor women. I just hope that there are lawyers/representatives out there willing to potentially do some pro bono work here because otherwise, I don’t see how poor women who are survivors stand much of a shot at getting justice in sexual assault cases under the DeVos guidelines.

On the other hand, these new regulations will likely end up helping wealthy men because: a) most perpetrators are men and b) the male perpetrators who come from wealthy families will be able to spend on the best lawyer/representative money can buy in order to fend off any accusations. Unless the survivor comes from a situation of economic wealth and can have the ability to hire good lawyers, the side of the wealthy male perpetrator is well positioned to win the legal case.

As to the results of these DeVos changes, I do tend to agree with advocates that this will likely have a chilling effect on reporting in general. However, I fear it will have a particularly chilling effect on reporting from poor women survivors of sexual assault. While some people may take pride in being right on something, this is a case where I really hope I am wrong.

Please note that because of Memorial Day, I will not publish a post next Monday.


[1] https://www.npr.org/2020/05/06/851733630/federal-rules-give-more-protection-to-students-accused-of-sexual-assault

[2] And if you’re a male survivor of assault or a survivor who doesn’t fit within the male-female gender binary, your story is no less valid because you are not a woman.

[3] https://www.rainn.org/statistics/victims-sexual-violence

Wealth Over Health: It’s Not Just a Trump Thing

A couple weeks ago, some people criticized United States President Donald Trump for trying to get the United States back to work, which would have defied what public health experts were (and still are) recommending about practices such as social isolation. Some friends and media have expressed shock at the president’s attitude toward the coronavirus, even dubbing it as a “wealth over health” type of attitude.

While I was angered and dismayed that Trump took such a dangerous attitude toward the coronavirus, I also recognize that attitudes similar to Trump’s, attitudes about prioritizing wealth and/or other results over health, is painfully common in society.

I’ve heard horror stories of people in numerous industries feeling that they have to sacrifice their health in favor of the bottom line. Some of my friends and acquaintances in the financial sector have told me stories of how they are expected to stay up late doing work, and then get up at ungodly hours of the morning to see how stock markets open in the Far East or in Europe. I have friends in government tell me about working 16-hour days, often at the sacrifice of self-care (both physically and mentally). I have friends in the nonprofit sector tell me about the work (as rewarding as it may be in certain cases) being so draining that it’s harmful to their physical and mental health. I’ve had friends in the business world who’ve encountered bosses who would work their employees until they are beyond ragged, all in the name of making every last dollar possible.

In summary, prioritizing wealth over health (whatever “wealth” may be, whether that’s money or certain other results) is not just a Trump thing. It’s an issue in many parts of American society, and Trump is only the most famous representative of the wealth-over-health attitude that exists in so many places.

So, if you think Trump’s attitude about the coronavirus was dangerous (I, for one, thought it was), don’t just get angry at Trump. Look at so many of the people around us, and as you look around, see whether some of those people have a Trump-like attitude about work.[1] You might be surprised—a Trump-like attitude about wealth over personal health is a lot more common than many of us realize.


[1] I’ve generally been lucky to have bosses who didn’t ask me to prioritize wealth over health. I am grateful for that. I know some who are not so lucky.

Shared Post: The Cost of Being Disabled

With the election process in 2020 ongoing, I wanted to share a post that fellow blogger Karly shared on the cost of being disabled. While people with muscular dystrophy (what Karly was diagnosed with at a young age) might experience different costs from someone with a different type of disability, one thing that is universal is that American health care often makes it miserably expensive to have a disability. Since Karly’s hope is “to highlight the importance of voting with disabled people and health care in mind,” I figured that sharing her post at a critical point in the election process is ideal.

You can find Karly’s post here.

You can find Karly’s blog here.

On Stereotypes of Homeless People

A little over two months ago, four homeless people were brutally beaten to death in New York City—Lower Manhattan, to be exact.[1] More recently, one of the local television stations in New York City, which is where I live, profiled these four victims of the brutal attacks.

One thing that became apparent to me, as I was listening to the profiles of these homeless individuals, is that we need to address some of the stereotypes about homeless people.

The National Coalition for the Homeless, which is one of the most prominent homelessness advocacy organizations in the United States, had a piece that succinctly mentioned three of the most prominent stereotypes about homeless individuals: that they are viewed as lazy, crazy, and/or drug addicts.[2]

Yet, Chuen Kwok, an 83-year-old man who was the oldest of the four victims beaten to death, was considered the “uncle” of the neighborhood, and only became homeless after falling on hard times during his sixties.[3]

Yet, Nazario Vazquez Villegas, who was also beaten to death in his sleep, worked a number of odd jobs over the years, and doesn’t exactly fit the stereotypical profile of a homeless person, either.[4]

Yet, Florencio Moran, the 39-year-old who was the youngest of the four who were killed, was someone who, at the time of my writing this, didn’t have much information to his name.[5] Therefore, there’s nothing to show that he fit the homeless stereotypes, either.

Yet, Anthony Mason, 49, was a blogger, just like me and just like some of my readers.[6] He founded nonprofit organizations in Mississippi to help the homeless and was a preacher too.[7] Mason’s story is actually quite extraordinary.

The only person involved in all of this who fits those homeless stereotypes (even when you include David Hernandez, the one person who was beat up but survived[8]) was the attacker: Randy Santos, a homeless man with a reported history of violence and mental illness.[9] That fact should be, by itself, a cause for reflection on the stereotypes our society often has about homeless people.

This story out of my hometown isn’t an anomaly, either. The people I know who’ve done work with homeless populations can often point to people they have encountered (sometimes, many people) who don’t, by any means, fit within the “lazy, crazy, drug addict” stereotype about being homeless. Personally, I can even say that I’ve encountered homeless individuals over the years who are every bit as talented as Anthony Mason, or every bit as well-regarded as Chuen Kwok, and that’s even though my work with homeless individuals has been much more limited than those who have dedicated their volunteer and/or professional lives to work with the homeless.

So, next time you see someone who you think is homeless on the street, the sidewalk, the bus, the train, don’t assume that the person is some lazy, crazy bum. That homeless individual you see may have more in common with you than you realize.

I dedicate this post to the memories of Chuen Kwok, Nazario Vazquez Villegas, Florencio Moran, and Anthony Mason.


[1] https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2019/10/05/homeless-men-beaten-death-manhattan-police-say/3879039002/

[2] https://nationalhomeless.org/tag/stereotypes/

[3] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/11/06/chuen-kwok–why-an-83-year-old-man-found-himself-homeless-in-the-twilight-of-his-life

[4] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/11/04/homeless–not-nameless–a-look-at-the-lives-of-the-four-men-who-were-beaten-to-death-found-nazario-vazquez-villegas-chinatown-

[5] https://www.ny1.com/nyc/all-boroughs/news/2019/11/07/murdered-while-sleeping-on-the-street–a-family-still-not-found

[6] His blog is here: http://anthonythepriestlyartist.us/?fbclid=IwAR2K985QbOxguzHc1AYfQuIP5lfQwnuqxIE_d49PTKo7twUVJQeLU_Kjhew.

[7] https://gothamist.com/news/wanderer-victim-homeless-attacks-kept-detailed-online-diary

[8] I’ve heard hardly any information on Hernandez, so I don’t have any information to confirm that he fits the homeless stereotypes.

[9] https://gothamist.com/news/wanderer-victim-homeless-attacks-kept-detailed-online-diary