Colleges Face Changes

Nov 19, 2015

Credit 401(K)2013/Flickr

By and large, the cost of college keeps rising, but what students get for their money isn’t always so clear. Student debt is accumulating as schools struggle with having to impose higher tuition rates, which some argue threatens the quality of a college education.

The president of the nation’s largest higher education union is urging the State University of New York to drop its Investment and Performance Fund, saying it would be harmful to SUNY and its state-operated campuses. United University Professions President Dr. Fred Kowal says it’s "unfortunate" that SUNY is dealing with the underfunding of the public higher education system.   "...by creating a system that really is akin to a 'Hunger Games' competition for scarce dollars."

Kowal contends the program, in which some $100 million is distributed among the 64 campuses, reallocates funds meant for all SUNY campuses to a select few, creating winners and losers and pitting departments, programs and campuses against each other.

According to UUP, SUNY is asking the state for $32 million more for the performance-based funding plan, which may tie state funding to specific performance metrics for SUNY campuses. The program received $18 million in the 2015-16 state budget, but the fund ballooned by $100 million when SUNY drained money from other resources.   "The burden has fallen on tuition dollars to fund the university to the extent that now its about 64 percent of the cost of SUNY falls on students."

UUP believes that with only 36 percent of SUNY’s funding now coming from state coffers, the expansion of performance-based funding would be a poor use of scarce resources. 

SUNY spokesman Casey Vattimo provided a prepared statement in reaction to the UUP's concerns. It reads:  "We are genuinely baffled by this statement from UUP. With limited funds to go around, Chancellor Zimpher and the Board of Trustees want to be absolutely sure we are investing in what works – and that is what the Investment and Performance Fund is designed to do.  Our campuses have embraced this process, submitting more than 200 proposals that total more than $489 million - all of which would support SUNY’s ambitious completion agenda by expanding evidence-based, high-impact practices such as Educational Opportunity Programs, research, better advising, and more. This fund remains critical to SUNY’s ability to drive completion and success for all students."

Kowal, who wants to see that every SUNY student has access to programs supported by tax dollars, adds that the campuses are so underfunded they have stepped up hiring adjunct professors.   "We are approaching a point where one out of every three faculty members in SUNY are adjuncts. That leads to circumstances where at some campuses, the numbers are very high, and that impacts the quality of the education that the students are getting, but also their ability to complete on time."

There are funding concerns at private schools, too.

Friday is to be a day of reckoning at the College of St. Rose in Albany.  College President Carolyn Stefanco is expected to present the financially troubled school's board of trustees with her proposals to make deep cuts to academic programs, likely to result in faculty layoffs. Angela Ledford is a fulltime professor of political science at St. Rose.    "We're going to lose at least 30 faculty members is my guess. And some programs will be eliminated."

Unionized adjunct faculty are set to rally Friday morning alongside students and their full-time colleagues as they continue to fight for a fair contract. They've been negotiating for 12 months with no resolution in sight.

President Stefanco is tasked with making tough decisions on behalf of St. Rose. She tells Newschannel 13:  "Whether you're a family or an institution, you have to figure out where you are at the moment, deal with the reality, share the information, figure out the process and right the financial ship. And that's what we're doing at the College of St. Rose."

In addition to labor problems with adjunct professors and staff cutbacks, Stefanco is dealing with cuts to benefit packages, a drop-off in admissions and a $9 million funding shortfall.

The "Rally to Save OUR Saint Rose" is set for 9 a.m. at the Administration Building.