The Pols are questioning SUNY funding amid a $160 million deficit across 19 campuses

The heads of SUNY and CUNY, the state’s public university systems, said Monday they are pleased with the increased funding for higher education in Gov. Kathy Hochul’s budget, but lawmakers continue to question whether it is enough to make up the deficits millions of dollars plaguing several universities.

SUNY and CUNY leaders painted a rosy picture for lawmakers during a governor’s budget hearing in Albany, as 19 campuses report a combined deficit of $160 million and continue to be weighed down by years of declining enrollment.

Hochul proposed annual increases in SUNY and CUNY tuition, tied to the Higher Education Price Index or 3%, whichever is lower. Tuition at SUNY’s four research facilities in Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook would increase by an additional 6% each year over the next five years over SUNY’s base tuition, with a 30% increase capped for out-of-state students .

“How will increasing tuition help reverse the trend of declining enrollment and bring students back to SUNY and CUNY…especially in times of inflation?” asked Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, the chair of the college board.

SUNY Chancellor John King said adequate academic programs, mental health services and other support for students require this funding.

“We believe that the quality of services that campuses can offer is really important to be competitive and to attract students,” King said. “…Ultimately, we believe that increasing tuition over time β€” a very modest increase in tuition β€” will help us actually position the campus to better attract students.”

SUNY and CUNY each do not expect to close or consolidate any federally funded campuses, community colleges or facilities given the financial challenges.

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“We believe that with the right support, each of our campuses can adapt their programs to the needs of regional economic development,” King said.

The tuition increases do not apply to students who receive a full student assistance program or an Excelsior scholarship. The increases would not take effect for the 2023/24 academic year.

Tuition at SUNY’s 64 campuses and CUNY senior colleges was last increased in the 2019-20 academic year — remained flat for the past three academic years, according to Hochul’s office. In 2022-23, New York’s public four-year colleges had average tuition and fees of $8,556, less than 43 other U.S. states, according to the College Board. The national average is $10,940.

“New York deserves the best public higher education system, and Governor Hochul is committed to building equitable, world-class institutions,” a spokesman for the governor said in a statement Monday. “Governor Hochul’s plan for SUNY and CUNY ensures that no student who earns a full TAP award or Excelsior scholarship has additional tuition costs, while ensuring the long-term future and financial stability of public higher education in New York.”

United University Professions president Frederick Kowal asked lawmakers to include millions of dollars in additional funding in their counterbudget proposals to help the 19 campuses and public teaching hospitals with multimillion-dollar budget shortfalls.

UUP, which represents more than 42,000 college professors and retirees, is campaigning for a $110 million increase in SUNY’s operating grant and $160 million to establish the State University Financially Distressed Campus Fund to directly support the 19 in crisis Campus.

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“Reg. Hochul’s goal of revitalizing SUNY and making it the best public higher education system in the country cannot be realized when all but six of its campuses are in serious financial jeopardy,” Kowal said. β€œIt has been counterproductive for previous administrations to financially starve these campuses, which are a proven economic engine for the country and communities they serve. With an $8.6 billion surplus, the state has the resources to stabilize SUNY’s 19 campuses and hospitals. We are calling on Governor Hochul and state legislators to work together to provide funding to stabilize our 19 campuses and teaching hospitals in this year’s budget.”

The fiscal distress comes after more than a decade of underfunding for SUNY, Kowal said.

King called on lawmakers to push for additional funding for SUNY hospitals, which are also facing deep deficits, including a $33 million shortfall for SUNY Downstate Medical Center this year.

SUNY is working to improve the funding formula for community colleges as they continue to struggle to recover from the COVID pandemic.

SUNY officials are focused on expanding high-demand programs, such as in nursing or cybersecurity, and are planning periods of waiving application fees and increasing advertising to increase the number of applicants.

SUNY will also contact students who have been denied enrollment from one campus and encourage them to reapply to another institution or program, and will send letters to all high school seniors, King said.

Approximately 2 million New Yorkers have SUNY course credits without having completed a program.

Both King and CUNY Chancellor Felix V. Matos Rodriguez asked the Legislature for more funding to hire staff to meet the increased interest.

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Fraudulent nursing diplomas from out-of-state online programs have impacted prospective faculty and students hired or accepted at SUNY campuses and hospitals with the pandemic push toward distance learning. The state Department of Education, the federal government, and law enforcement agencies continue to work together to investigate flawed online nursing programs.

Deputy Commissioner for the state Department of Education Sarah Benson said the department is holding meetings with police and federal officials at least weekly about the ongoing investigation.

“Additional information will continue to be provided,” Benson said. “We will work with them and with advice on the appropriate next steps.”

The SUNY system continues to mandate the COVID-19 vaccine for all students, faculty and staff. The chancellor doubted policies would change soon after other New York universities have since dropped public health requirements. Some lawmakers questioned whether the mandate should be overturned to further increase enrollment.

“We have been guided by the advice of public health experts and continue to gather that advice to ensure we are following the best that public health is available,” King said. “…We want to make sure we are guided by the best experts in public health.”

Students and staff can request exceptions for religious or health reasons, King said.