Administrators say underfunding not an issue at Geneseo

Concerns about funding for Geneseo from New York State have been eased since the election of Governor Eliot Spitzer, and are not something to worry about, say campus administrators. Among community members, concerns are often focused on the amount of funding designated to the Geneseo campus after money has been appropriated to other SUNY campuses around the state.

The SUNY system's funding is distributed throughout the state through a specific formula called the Budget Allocation Process (BAP). Geneseo receives its main operating funds through this process, as well as through tuition and fees.

The BAP formula allocates state funds by factors such as student enrollment, sponsored research activity, and mandatory cost increases. These increases include collective bargaining obligations and inflation. Enrollment based funding accounts for the majority of state support, which is roughly $11.5 million, or 72.6 percent, of the $15.9 million the College receives in state funding.

One common concern is that SUNY graduate research centers like Albany and Buffalo received higher funding than liberal arts undergraduate programs. According to Assistant Vice President of Budget James Milroy, greater percentages of funding go to the research centers in recognition of the fact that it is more expensive to operate a research-oriented graduate center than it is to operate an undergraduate liberal arts comprehensive college.

Kenneth Levison, Geneseo's vice president of administration and finance, agreed with the system. "Arts and sciences campuses get less of the state tax pie than graduate centers," he said.

Unlike most other state systems, New York's undergraduate tuition is standardized for all SUNY schools. Many state colleges outside of New York charge higher tuitions to make up for costs. "We don't do that at SUNY," Levison added. "Thirty to 40 percent of our funds come from state tax dollars. SUNY graduate schools, research centers and medical centers receive roughly 53 percent of their funds from the state. That's why there's the idea that we're underfunded," he said. Last year was the first time the College got additional funding from the state. Typically, enrollment increaseds but there was no increase in funds. "Last year it finally happened," Levison said.

However, Levison assured The Lamron that the College doesn't aim to increase enrollment. "We don't want to dilute our educational abilities with more students. Because of who we are and what we are, our funding is satisfactory for the programs we offer," he stated.

Another concern raised was that the College was spending a too-large amount of the budget on construction projects such as the Integrated Science Facility, the planned Bailey and Greene renovations, and the Doty reacquisition. Levison explained that the types of funding appropriated to these projects comes from a different source.

Construction and maintenance funding comes from the capital budget, which is "completely different than appropriation," Levison said. The College received $12 million for the Doty project plus $2.4 million for critical maintenance of campus buildings. "A Capital project is a project with long range use," he explained. "It's funded by bond funds over 30 years, and is a lump sum, not ongoing funding." This means that the money can only be used for projects, and can't be used for faculty salaries. "Once the money runs out, it's gone," he added.

Both Levison and Milroy hope that Spitzer's election as governor will have positive effects on the SUNY system. "Spitzer is very positively geared toward education," Levison said. "He's the first New York governor since Nelson Rockefeller to be disposed toward higher education." Spitzer aims to form a commission to study New York public higher education to find out what it takes to make it excellent, including affordability, accessibility, and rational tuition plans. "We're putting tremendous amount of hope in that, because SUNY Chancellor John Ryan spoke to Spitzer before the election. Spitzer could give us an opportunity to move toward our vision of being the premier public liberal arts college in the country," he said. "In a year with gubernatorial change and fiscal challenges, we got continuing support without reductions in funding and without any cuts." Milroy said that it's a matter of perspective as to whether Geneseo receives enough funding from the state. "As the College's assistant vice president for budget, I would always like more. Clearly Governor Spitzer has expressed concern over the state's growing debt load but he has also indicated that he views SUNY as important to the state's economic recovery," he said.