SUNY Purchase Runs Into Funding Issues

by Aidan McHugh

Student Services Building on campus. (Photo via Wikimedia Commons - Rschaming [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)]

SUNY campuses may have dodged the budget axe, but rising costs have created what Chief Financial Officer Judy Nolan has described as an “effective cut” in funding.


Nolan explained that while state financial aid has remained flat, the costs of maintaining the campus have increased.


“We have the same amount of dollars as last year but now our expenses are greater,” Nolan said, noting that in the budget for the current fiscal year, state tax-dollar funding amounted to $14.4 million out of the $79 million total, roughly the same as last year. The rest comes from tuition dollars and revenue generated on campus like renting out the Performing Arts Center.


One of the main problems with the current spending gap is that staff salaries are negotiated with the state, so if the state dictates an increase, the same amount of money now has to cover additional expenses.


Nolan suggested that some ways to close the gap would be by maximizing efficiency, rearranging departments, and trying to attract more out-of-state students who pay higher tuition, but she was keen to emphasize that there was no one-size-fits-all solution to the financial issue.


“We look at each situation differently and individually because we are not going to cut our nose to spite our face,” Nolan said, arguing that broad measures like hiring freezes or department cuts would only create more problems.


Raising tuition is out of the question, however, because that is set by the state under the SUNY 2020 Program.


When asked if Governor Cuomo should divert more funds to the SUNY program, Nolan said that while she personally would lobby on behalf of SUNY, she acknowledged the governor has many different sides to consider.


“He has to wear glasses with many lenses, lenses to look at many things,” Nolan said in regards to Cuomo.


Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Barry Pearson largely agreed with Nolan’s point of view. On the topic of staff salary raises, he noted an additional problem, Purchase is unable to give a higher increase beyond what the state dictates because they simply lack the money to do so. As a result, while “…Faculty love Purchase, they love being here, but when they are offered a more competitive salary at another institution, they’re drawn away, and rightly so,” said Pearson.


Pearson believed that the state government should be doing more to find the SUNY program by using tax-payer dollars, and by removing restrictions on how SUNY campuses can use their money he noted that the state charges a 63% interest rate (called fringe) on using money in a way the state did not intend, like augmenting salaries. He felt quite strongly that the fringe interest rate should be abolished.


James Accordino, head of the Purchase chapter of the New York Public Interest Research Group, had a different perspective on the issue. He felt that, with state funding remaining flat while tuition was routinely hiked under the SUNY 2020 program, the burden of paying for higher education had effectively shifted from the state to the students and their families.


NYPIRG is opposed to any form of tuition hikes on principle, and instead believe that, “Governor Cuomo and his executive budget proposal should do everything possible to make sure that the SUNY and CUNY systems are fully funded, properly and lawfully by the state,” said Accordino.


Accordino also stated that many of the problems on campus, like outstanding maintenance issues, unfinished accessibility upgrades, and the roads (which were only addressed this semester), are a result of the the state not giving Purchase the money it needs to operate efficiently.


On that note, Accordino pointed out that with the recent elections, the New York budget season is about to start, and will be well under way by the time the spring semester starts. Then, Governor Cuomo will be presenting his budget proposal, including funding for higher education.


“At that point,” Accordino said. “It will be up to students, faculty, staff, community members, so on and so forth, to make sure that what ends up in the final budget is a spending policy that is pro-student, pro-faculty, and pro-making sure the educational experience here is perfect.”

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