As the fall semester begins, campuses within the SUNY system are struggling to accommodate operating budget cuts totaling $96 million.
In May, Gov. Paterson reduced the SUNY utilities budget by $26 million and the operating budget by $38.8 million. In a July 30 administrative savings proposal, Paterson mandated that SUNY incur an additional General Fund spending reduction of seven percent, bringing the overall budget cut to a devastating 15 percent. The cuts have produced a funding gap of approximately $2.5 million dollars at Geneseo.
Kenneth Levison, vice president of administration and finance, described the cuts as "catastrophic" and "very difficult to deal with." In an effort to reduce expenditures, the college no longer offers one-credit freshman INTD 101 courses and has made a 12 percent reduction in spending on equipment and supplies and a 4 percent reduction in spending on salaries. Even with the reductions, Levison said it is uncertain that the college will be able to close the gap easily.
Levison said that currently about three-quarters of the college's budget goes toward salary payments. Although no faculty positions were terminated as a result of the budget, positions left vacant at the end of semester remain unfilled, and departments must now wait longer to begin the hiring process.
"We're doing the very best we can to maintain the quality of our programs," said Levison, adding that, "Without some kind of tuition increase or mitigation of these cuts, we will have to take action that will change [the college] in ways that we don't want to."
Addressing the deterioration of the budget in his 2008 Convocation Address, President Christopher Dahl said: "Given the gravity of the situation, it is time to enact a tuition increase and communicate much more forcefully the damage to our programs and the harm to our students that would ensue if we do not have the flexibility to manage our revenue accounts."
Geneseo has raised tuition only once in the past 13 years. In the past, the state has allowed tuition increases only to fill in budget gaps, not to add value. Levison hopes that a "rational tuition policy" will be enacted to allow each SUNY campus to charge a tuition that reflects its mission. Campuses aiming to offer higher quality programs could then post a higher tuition than campuses currently meeting their programming goals.
In August Gov. Paterson said, "Because the deficit grew 23 percent in three months I am pretty sure that this deficit will grow even more before the end of the year."
If, as predicted, New York State's fiscal struggles become a multi-year problem, a tuition hike will likely be the only feasible way to make up funding cuts without further affecting programming quality.