New York’s Colleges and Universities are Key to Its Revival

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Pace University (photo: Pace University)

We knew our city never was or would be dead. Vaccines are here, restaurants have re-opened for indoor dining, and commercial life is returning. Apartment sales, rental volumes, and prices are back on the upswing. And throughout the downturn, major, forward-thinking employers like Facebook and TikTok signed giant new office leases in Manhattan.

But we still need to do everything we can to bring in the next generations of New Yorkers. And that means recognizing what an economic engine New York’s colleges and universities are for our city and state. We attract the young, ambitious, and diverse talent our city needs to restart and rebuild. 

There were nearly 1 million undergraduates enrolled in New York’s colleges and universities in the last academic year, according to statistics from the state Education Department. More students travel to New York for college than to any other state, according to data from the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York. And these students are the people who will help rebuild New York and drive our future.

At Pace University, with campuses in Lower Manhattan and Westchester, we have a proud 115-year history of helping hard-working, ambitious young people to transform their lives through the power of a college education. Our student body of 13,600 undergraduate and graduate students—many of them the first in their families to attend college—come to Pace from 47 states and 99 countries.

New York’s private colleges and universities, Pace among them, generate $89 billion in economic impact annually, and support 415,600 jobs in the state, according to CICU. The sprawling SUNY system drives another $28.6 billion, according to a study by the Rockefeller Institute for Government. In total, that’s more than $117 billion in economic activity in our state attributable to higher education—more than one-and-a-half times the $74.6 billion output of the state’s manufacturing sector (per the National Association of Manufacturers).

In Washington, the new Biden administration is committed to supporting colleges and universities. President Biden has promised to expand the Pell grant program that provides government aid for low-income Americans. That’s an important and overdue change, as the size of those grants have not kept up with inflation. He wants to make federal loans easier for students and their families to navigate and less costly, both very welcome measures. And he has said he’ll expand student loan forgiveness for students who go into public service, which will help both students and our important public sector.

The relief package passed at the end of last year included some aid for higher education, and President Biden’s American Rescue Plan, currently being debated in Congress, promises more.

But colleges and universities are in a deep financial bind right now. Tuition revenue has fallen because of the pandemic, in some cases precipitously, and expenses for student, faculty and staff health and safety, including extensive testing protocols, have increased. Strapped state budgets aren’t able to fill the gap, and tuition increases are out of the question. We need more support from our government along with corporate partners to do our work effectively. 

We’re doing our part by trimming budgets and looking for creative ways to help our dollars go further. We’re finding additional ways to reach our students and serve our communities, even through challenging times.

We play a crucial role in our regional economies. We bring in the next generation of workers, and we give them the skills they’ll need for the jobs of tomorrow. We incubate new ideas and develop new talent. We provide jobs and invest in our communities. 

And now we’re turning to federal, state, and local partners for help. College and universities are key to maintaining the vibrant and ambitious economic landscape of New York. With the help of our partners, we’ll be an integral part of rebuilding it.

Marvin Krislov is the President of Pace University. On Twitter @PaceUniversity.

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