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Understanding SUNY Fredonia’s “state” of affairs

David M. Tiffany
David M. Tiffany

by David M. Tiffany,
Vice President for University Advancement

With all of the recent economic uncertainty, coupled with the many budget cuts coming out of Albany, many are wondering how SUNY Fredonia is being impacted. The short answer is, “Considerably,” although if you ask our students, they’ll likely tell you they have felt little to no impact thus far, thanks to the proactive steps taken by our administration. Nonetheless, we thought you might appreciate some background on the budget situation, so you can better understand the challenges we’re all facing.

Facing cuts from the state

The SUNY system as a whole has already absorbed approximately $210 million in state funding cuts during calendar year 2008 — by far the largest reduction issued to any state entity. For Fredonia, this has translated to a $3.1 million, or 14 percent, decrease in our 2008-09 operating budget.

Now, in the latest budget proposed by the governor’s office, another $45 million would be eliminated from SUNY, which would mean another $1 million from Fredonia. To make matters worse, after years of lobbying for the merits of a rational and predictable tuition plan, the state has finally approved a tuition increase — the first in six years and just the second in the last 13. However, it is taking the unprecedented step of redirecting almost all of this increase — 90 percent in Spring 2009, and 80 percent next year — to reduce the state’s budget deficit. This is a clear violation of the compact SUNY has with its students and their families and, when added to the new $1 million proposed cut, would mean another 12.5 percent reduction, resulting in an almost unfathomable 26.5 percent decrease in total operating budget.

"State school" label is misleading

This has clearly been a challenging and frustrating time for our campus and all those across the SUNY system. At the same time, it’s something we’ve become accustomed to dealing with, albeit it to a lesser extent. For years SUNY has witnessed grave inequities versus other educational funding metrics. SUNY receives, on average, about $3,000 in operating funding per student. By comparison, the average New York State K-12 district receives close to $13,000 per student in state aid, and similar state colleges in Pennsylvania and New Jersey receive $7,000 to $9,000 per student. The mere fact that we are called a “state school” is somewhat misleading, after considering that just 16 percent of our total operating budget comes from the state. The rest is generated by internal sources, such as residence halls, dining services, retail operations and the work of the Fredonia College Foundation. If the new cuts proceed as the governor’s office proposes, that number will be reduced to 12 percent.

SUNY impacted more than CUNY

The discrepancies are even more evident as we see the disproportionate manner in which these cuts are being administered. SUNY’s counterparts in CUNY (the City University of New York, based in New York City), have not been impacted to nearly this extreme, nor have the private colleges, which also receive state funding. Even community colleges have been limited to a 10 percent cut. In all, it’s a curious strategy, to say the least, to take toward one of the most effective economic engines the state possesses.

The inequities are vast, yet we are finding ways to survive in these challenging times. This is in large part to the credit of the administration, which recognized and got out in front of this pending crisis roughly one year ago, thereby limiting the discomfort the campus would experience. From day one, Fredonia’s leaders have sought to ensure that, first and foremost, students will still have access to all of the courses they need to graduate within the standard four-year time frame. We have succeeded in this endeavor, and have kept the number and quality of all our classes at the same high levels our students deserve and have been accustomed to receiving. In addition, proactive management strategies, such as hiring freezes for all but mission critical positions and rigorous departmental belt tightening, have given us the flexibility to avoid layoffs. In the meantime, we continue to lobby the appropriate constituencies at the local and state governmental levels, while advocating for a more fair and strategic approach to solving this crisis through alternate sources of state funding relief.

How you can help

So how can you help? First, you can follow our lead in writing and calling your elected officials to stress the value of and need for affordable, high quality higher education in our state. Help them understand they are handcuffing one of the few assets New York has available to improve its present situation.

Second, you can continue to support Fredonia through the efforts of our foundation. We’re in the midst of a $15 million capital campaign, the largest in our history. Established in 2006 before its public launch midway through 2008, the need for this campaign is even more vital today than we believed it would be just three years ago. These funds are crucial to ensure the scholarships, tools and technology needed to keep our students, faculty and campus community at the high standards of excellence they all deserve. If you are in a position to support this campaign, your gift — no matter how modest — would be more appreciated than ever.

Despite all of this, the sky is not falling. We welcomed our largest and most selective freshmen class ever this past fall, and early indications are that the Class of 2013 will be similarly strong. Still, we face one of the most challenging economic situations in our history. We’re managing it well and remain optimistic about the future, but we are also realistic about the present operating environment. Your assistance will never make a greater difference on the lives of others here at Fredonia. And as always, all of us within Fredonia’s University Advancement division thank you for your interest, loyalty and support.

posted @ Thursday, January 22, 2009 12:22 PM by Christine Davis Mantai

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