If approved, state schools to gain control over budgets

A recent legislative proposal by New York Gov. David Paterson could provide CUNY and SUNY systems, including Binghamton University, with increased independence from the state budget process.

The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, which was included in the 2010-11 Executive Budget released on Jan. 19, would allow Boards of Trustees of SUNY and CUNY institutions to design a policy that would restrict tuition increases to predictable, incremental changes in lieu of erratic spikes of increases.

The proposal is awaiting approval by state legislature.

Such a policy, termed a rational tuition policy, would put an annual cap of two-and-a-half times the five-year average of the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI) on tuition increases.

The rational tuition policy could allow a range of increases throughout the systems based on recommendations from the president of each individual institution.

The act, if approved, also would allow both public higher education systems to receive the revenues from tuition increases, which previously went to help close state budget gaps.

This reform package will specifically benefit BU by working directly with the “Think Green. Think Global. Think Binghamton.” plan, an initiative created to expand enrollment, faculty and support staff, fuel entrepreneurialism, construct 12 new buildings and add academic programs.

According to a press release from the University, BU is expected to generate an additional $170 million annual impact on Greater Binghamton and an additional $231.6 million annual impact on New York state, for new totals of $920 million and $1.23 billion, respectively, with the reform.

Paterson said in a Jan. 15 press release that in addition to allowing SUNY and CUNY to create their own tuition policies, the reform would prevent the state from overregulation in terms of contracts, procurement and land use, while still providing appropriate oversight.

“We must provide our institutions of public higher education with the freedom and flexibility they need to drive development both on campus and off, preparing our students for the new economy, jobs that will propel New York forward,” Paterson said in the press release.

The reform would authorize SUNY to hold jurisdiction over the lease of real property, a move that would help campuses create revenue in new and independent ways. This change is subject to approval by the State University Asset Maximization Review Board, but if passed, it would encourage business opportunities with private companies.

“SUNY understands that the state is in a difficult situation, and that is why we so strongly support this no-cost solution for improved efficiencies in how we do business,” said David Belsky, special assistant for strategic communications for SUNY.

According to the release, Paterson hopes the reform will strengthen New York state’s public education system to prepare students for the jobs of the future, which could drive the state’s future prosperity, the release said.

“We’re hopeful that the legislature will see this as a win-win proposition,” Belsky said. “A no-cost solution for a high-gain initiative is exactly the kind of big ideas New York needs.”

Members of the Student Assembly at BU and SUNY SA have been pushing for a similar reform for over a year through petitions and letters to the governor.

“Last year the Research and Planning Committee and SUNY SA … had a petition defining what rational tuition should be,” said Lawrence Faulstich, chair of BU’s committee. “All the money we pay should go back to the school.”

This year, members of SUNY SA sent the governor a “very stern statement” through pre-written signed letters saying students disagree with the budget cuts and the government taking tuition money, Faulstich said.

“I feel like we are actually being heard for once, but I hope it’s not a backhanded deal,” he said.

Assemblywoman Donna Lupardo (D-126th District), a member of the Higher Education committee and the representative for Binghamton University, appreciates “the governor’s commitment to improving the system.”

”SUNY should not have its tuition resources raided as a way to balance the state’s budget,” she said.