Campus Leaders ‘Uncertain’ About Budget Climate

While SUNY trustees approved  of an $8.1 billion budget request at the end of November for fiscal 2012-13, college administrators, faculty and others are optimistic but unsure what the next year will bring.

SUNY officials said the budget plan, which includes $1.8 billion in requested taxpayer support, a 9.2 percent increase over current funding, would raise spending for university-wide programs and system administration 7.7 percent.

At SUNY New Paltz, President Donald Christian said he and his colleagues remain optimistic in regards to whether or not New York officials will accommodate SUNY requests rather than cut funding as they have in recent years. However, he said “a lot of uncertainty” remains because the projected state budget gap is now estimate to be $3.5 billion.

“How big that is and how that plays out is one of the big sources of uncertainty,” Christian said. “There are many in the Legislature who I think have realized that SUNY has been hit so hard and really can’t continue to be cut if we’re going to fulfill our mission.”

Chief of Staff Shelly Wright said campus officials met with legislators several weeks ago, and these “positive” conversations indicate that they have support for SUNY and funding the system.

“We’ve also met with [Charles] Schumer and we’ve met with a senior staffer in [Kirsten] Gillibrand’s office,” she said. Christian said administrators discussed how they felt state officials should be supporting federal student financial aid in the form of Pell Grants and Perkins Loans for students.

A 10 percent cut in state funding to the SUNY system this fiscal year caused campus officials to have to make plans for meeting a $6.3 million shortfall. Changes introduced as a result of the shortfall included cuts to the utilities, other than personnel services and part-time personnel budgets, among others.

Peter Brown, president of the campus chapter of the United University Professions (UUP) union, said he shares Christian’s feelings about the upcoming year because he does not see how the state’s government could cut the system any more.

“I read the same tea leaves that he does,” he said. “I am also cautiously optimistic that we will not be cut further, but we can’t predict the future.”

Christian said students should note next year, in spite of any cuts that may or may not be handed down from the state, funds collected from recently approved tuition increases will should not be used to “fill a hole created by a loss of tax payer support.”

New York officials approved of what SUNY officials in support of the plan called a rational tuition policy, allowing for a $300 tuition increase next semester. Christian said he thinks the college will be in a situation in which the increase will be above and beyond the tax payer base of funds SUNY New Paltz  starts with.

The president said this would allow officials to invest those tuition revenues into things that matter to students – professors that teach courses. This year, college officials hired 20 new faculty members to begin working on campus next fall. Administrators said this would not have been possible without the $2.4 million generated from the rise in tuition.

“I know the heartburn that many students have about tuition, and yet I hope everybody recognizes that because of the tuition increase that we got this year, we’re able to hire new faculty who will be here to teach courses and advise students and supervise student research and projects,” he said.

Other ways in which tuition revenue may be used include staffing the Psychological Counseling Center, Christian said.

UUP officially supported the tuition increases, Brown said, although individual members opposed them because they felt the state should have provided additional funding to the SUNY system.

The SUNY budget request would also increase community college funding by $23.7 million, which was reduced in the current fiscal year. System officials said they want to boost state aid by $205 per student each year for five years.