The Administration & Finance division of SUNY New Paltz has set the initial budget to have a deficit of $10 million, a greater deficit than the $6 million one that occurred in the last fiscal year. A budget deficit occurs when expenditures, or money going out, exceed revenue, or money coming in.
The new fiscal year began on July 1, 2022 and will continue until June 30, 2023. The initial budget for this fiscal year has an estimated revenue of $61 million with $72 million in expenditures.
President Darrell Wheeler and colleagues from Administration & Finance, including Michele Halstead, the Vice President for Administration & Finance, discussed the college’s budget at a budget forum on Wednesday, Oct. 19. Prior to the forum, the United University Professions Union (UUP) held a rally outside of the Student Union Building to draw attention to the large budget deficit and urge lawmakers to aid in closing it. UUP President Frederick E. Kowal was present, along with New Paltz Mayor Tim Rogers, Ulster County Legislator Megan Sperry and New York State Assembly candidate Sarahana Shrestha.
“Investing in SUNY is the low-hanging fruit of economic development. Albany works hard figuring out ways to fuel prosperity for individuals and communities across New York State. But the puzzle is less complicated when we consider how impactful it is to invest in an existing institution like SUNY and its economic engine,” said Mayor Rogers.
“There is no reason New York can’t have one of the best public education systems in the world. Instead, our SUNY campuses in the Hudson Valley and beyond are barely getting by, thanks to sustained budget cuts over the years,” said State Assembly candidate Sarahana Shrestha. “At a time when everyday survival is a struggle for many families, young New Yorkers need direction for something they can work toward. An adequately-funded SUNY system can and should play an integral role in that.”
AnnaLynn DiMarco, chair of the Student Association senate and a third year political science and Black Studies major, also spoke at the event, “Budget stagnation will not affect everyone and everything equally. It will affect Black Studies departments and programs the most. It will affect Latin American and Caribbean studies programs and departments the most …When we do not have the money or staff to fix broken elevators and wheelchair lifts, it is our students with disabilities who are affected the most. Let me be clear that the list goes on. Your failure to provide us with adequate funding affects all students but it will affect certain students significantly more.”
Stephen Pampinella, an assistant professor of political science and international relations, discussed the economic significance of SUNY New Paltz in New York state, “SUNY New Paltz is the biggest employer in the county. It’s producing an awful lot of economic activity. When faculty and staff are paid by the university they’re going to spend that money in local businesses, restaurants, shops, etc. We’re essential to the vitality of the county. So when Governor Hocul provides money to SUNY, that’s very much going to help ordinary people here in New Paltz and in the broader region.”
“SUNY New Paltz simply needs more funding so that we can provide more services to students. Right now, we have a 16-to-one instructor to student ratio. We want to bring that down to 13-to-one by hiring more full-time instructors, hiring more support staff that can provide services such as mental health services and advisement services to students,” he said.
“That’ll just simply improve the overall quality of the education that our students received and that they, in fact, deserve.”
Revenue for SUNY’s core operating budget includes tuition, the $25 college fee each student pays per semester, interest and direct taxpayer support, which is derived from the state government’s budget process. Direct taxpayer support is determined by the SUNY system, which calculates how much money SUNY New Paltz will receive from New York state. SUNY New Paltz’s main share of direct taxpayer support has not changed since 2012.
Expenditures of the core operating budget are comprised of academic and administrative faculty and staff salaries, utilities for academic and administrative buildings, as well as contract supplies and equipment for academic enterprises.
Administration & Finance expected a budget deficit of $8 million for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Total expenses for the 2021-22 fiscal year were estimated to be $71 million, with a revenue of $63 million. Due to a lack of student enrollment, the college did not make as much money as the administration expected. Despite this, the budget deficit was less than anticipated.
This was because expenditures were lower due to decreased spending on personal services as a result of vacant faculty positions, some deliberate and some not, as well as increased taxpayer support. This came in the form of state-funded collective bargaining, which led to raises for the University Police Department.
As a result, the budget deficit for the 2021-2022 fiscal year was $6 million, with a total revenue of $61 million, and total expense of $67 million. An ideal budget would be one when the revenue is greater than expenditures so the college can avoid having to dip into campus reserve funds when there is a deficit.
It’s important to acknowledge that an initial budget is an estimate of revenue and expenditures over the fiscal year, meaning it is subject to change. Halstead noted that the actual deficit for this fiscal year could be $12 million, due to personal service expenditures increasing because of collective bargaining for the UUP.
As of July 2022, the college has $17.9 million in the campus reserve, which are funds SUNY New Paltz dips into when there is a deficit. Halstead stated at the budget forum, “Our campus has been really diligent in packing away any money we’ve gotten over the past few years … But if we really did come out the year with a $12 million deficit, we’ve taken two- thirds of our reserves in one year.”
Students may wonder how SUNY New Paltz can afford to have so many ongoing construction projects while facing a budget deficit. This is because the core operating budget is separate from construction funding, which cannot be used for ongoing expenses like faculty salaries. SUNY New Paltz received a $4.7 million share and will begin two major projects of renovating Peregrine Dining Hall to accommodate students and the Elting Gym pool to make it adhere to NCAA standards shortly.
The college is no exception to the increased cost of living being felt around the world due to pandemic inflation. The cost of running various aspects of campus, like residence halls and food services, have all faced increased operating expenses that SUNY New Paltz must cover.
President Wheeler acknowledged that receiving more money from the state would be the simple answer to closing the deficit but emphasized that “money is not always the solution. It’s what you do with the money.”
“One of the things I hope that we do a lot more together, across shared governance, is making sure that the dollars we’re using are helping us achieve our mission, because our goal is not to make money. We’re not like a private corporation that has to return millions to its investors, but we do have to account for how our dollars are helping us achieve our mission,” he said.
The administration is committed to focusing on student retention to ensure there is not a loss of students paying tuition. Wheeler stated at the budget forum, “The commitment to retention must be part of our strategic efforts across the campus. We have to increase our commitment and our approach to student-centeredness.”
The college lost about 300 students in the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic, and another 330 students in the 2021-2022 school year. While there is less of a decline this year for incoming and returning students, the population of students has declined since its high point of 8,024 students in 2008, to 7,069 students in the current year.
Some students worry that the increased acceptance rate indicates the college is declining in quality. President Wheeler explained, “We never want to admit someone who has no potential for success. And I don’t believe we have done that at all …We’re going to do our darn best job to make sure that every student we admit has the potential to succeed. And that’s really what we’re after. You should be looking at graduation rate, and our completion rate for six years out is 76%.”
“So will we consider diluting it if 70% of our students are graduating? Probably not. Yes, we want to always get really talented students, but we also want to make this education accessible to students who may have had a rocky beginning and have got it together now.”
Halstead stated at the forum that while the administration doesn’t know exactly what closing the budget deficit looks like, they are focused on enrollment efforts, “We are increasing our enrollment efforts. More students in the door is the biggest, not the easiest, but the most concrete way that we can close the gap.”
“We’re at a bit of a saturation point with our expenditures, given that most of our expenditures are people. 86% of our budget is people. We have some units that are to the bone right now and we need to reinvest in those people. I told Dr. Wheeler from day one, ‘We’re not cutting our way out of this, we need to increase those revenues.’”
As the administration tries to find ways to close the deficit, the effect of budget cuts is felt particularly by faculty. Professor Pampinella explained, “I’ve tried to contact different kinds of staff offices, and they’re all understaffed. It’s something that I’ve experienced, but also my colleagues experience as well.”
He also emphasized the need to hire professors full time, rather than having full time faculty lines transferred into adjunct lines. “What that’s going to mean is simply less time for our students. When that happens, then whichever full-time faculty is left, have to pick up all the other service requirements,” he said.
“If there’s fewer of us there’s still work to do. It just becomes an overload on us. We’re trying to avoid that.”