SUNY presses state for bigger budget

SUNY leaders asked for a bigger budget in their testimonies to the New York State Assembly Committees on Ways & Means and Higher Education and Senate Committees on Finance and Higher Education in Albany last Tuesday.

In November, the SUNY Board of Trustees sent a request to Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature to increase SUNY’s state aid by 17.5 percent. In his budget, Cuomo proposed a 1.7 percent increase, up to $3.4 billion annually.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher requested more funding be put into increasing the number of SUNY graduates, continue a $300-a-year tuition increase and repair buildings at SUNY’s 64 state-wide campuses.

“While New York has made great strides in rebuilding its support, I cannot stress enough the need for greater investment,” Zimpher said in her testimony.

According to the Chancellor’s Office, the key component of SUNY’s request is an investment fund for all campuses that will help SUNY graduate 150,000 students a year by 2020, known as NYSUNY 2020. Currently, about 93,000 college students graduate from SUNY schools annually.

“For every 100 ninth graders in New York, an average of 23 go to college and complete their degree on time, and in our upstate urban centers, the average drops to an abysmal 16—it’s a completely unacceptable rate of student success,” Zimpher said in her testimony. “SUNY has spent the last five years figuring out what we can do to educate more of these students and help them succeed through college and into their career, and we are ready to bring ‘what works’ to scale. Increased investment in SUNY can and will lead to a higher degree of success for all of New York’s students.”

Since NYSUNY 2020 was first enacted, SUNY campuses have used additional revenue generated by rational tuition to grow and expand student services, including the hiring of 520 net new instructional staff.

NYSUNY 2020 allows the colleges to increase tuition by $300 a year over five years. This measure gives SUNY the independence to increase tuition without having to battle the state legislature every year over its request.

Student tuition has been in many different conversations that involve the budget this year.

“For far too long, the state has depended on students for the bulk of SUNY funding. Students, through tuition and fees, account for approximately 63 percent of SUNY’s funding,” said Frederick E. Kowal, president of United University Professions.

Recently, Gov. Cuomo proposed a student loan forgiveness plan in his State of the State Address in which the state would cover two years of a New York state college graduate’s loans if they earned less than $50,000 a year.

The governor’s $142 billion budget also includes $200 million a year to repair some of the aging buildings at SUNY schools. Zimpher and college presidents are asking for the aid to be tripled to $600 million a year over the next five years, saying in their testimonies that nearly half of SUNY’s buildings were built between 40 and 50 years ago.

“This level of investment will ensure that we can continue to keep our students, faculty and staff warm, safe and dry,” Zimpher said.

Several hundred SUNY college students, including representatives of the SUNY Student Assembly, were also present at the hearing and made their own testimonies.

“We are here today, not asking for a handout. Instead, we are here to request that the state strengthen its partnership with SUNY and continue the mutually beneficial trend that it has in years past,” Mould said. “Let’s make SUNY synonymous with success. Let’s invest in our state’s future, not flat-line it. We the students of SUNY are asking you to stand by our side, continue to expand our partnership, and to help us reach even higher levels of accomplishment.”

Also included in the SUNY’s post-executive budget request is a rational funding plan for community colleges, starting with an increase in base aid funding of $250 per student; a restoration of approximately $5.3 million in funding provided by the 2014-15 state budget for university-wide programs including education opportunity programs (EOP), Advanced Technology Training and Information Networking (ATTAIN) labs and child care as well as the Graduation Achievement and Placement (GAP) program at the community colleges; a restoration of the $7.6 million in support provided in 2014-15 State Budget for State-operated campus salary costs; and a restoration of $18.5 million in 2014-15 funding for SUNY’s three teaching hospitals.