SUNY prepares for policy changes

In reaction to state budget cuts, State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher proposed a plan in January that will alter key components of current SUNY policy.

These changes will affect three areas: universities' abilities to use their financial reserves, their role in setting enrollment caps and the ability of students to transfer credits between different SUNY institutions.

According to Vice President for Administration and Finance Ken Levison, Geneseo will be working with a $7.2 million structural budget gap over the next three years; Geneseo's current annual operating budget stands at $78 million.

"The reserves have been built up in order to maintain the level of quality of this institution through bad times, and to give us the flexibility over a number of years to make major equipment purchases," Levison said. "The intent of the [SUNY] policy is to justify the use of reserves."

In its current form, the proposed policy will mandate that campuses maintain between 10 and 25 percent of their operating budget in reserves. Should an institution fall short of the 10 percent minimum requirement, the institution will need to come up with a plan to effectively increase its reserves. Should a campus exceed the 25 percent maximum requirement, however, it will need to demonstrate how the money will be spent or risk having the excess money reallocated to SUNY administration.

In addition, all SUNY campuses have been instructed to submit multi-year plans detailing how they expect to spend their reserves. Should an institution fail to spend at least 75 percent of its reserves allocated for expenditure in any given year, SUNY will maintain the right to sweep all excess money.

"My concern is that particularly in a time of decreasing resources, that we not be put in a position where we can't provide the kinds of support that we need to give our students the excellent education that we come here for," Levison said.

Regarding the changes in SUNY policy concerning student transferability of credits, Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Long said that that the crux of the policy involves "improv[ing] movement through the education pipeline."

The new policy – which, according to Long, has been finalized – will guarantee the transferability of general education requirements between all 64 SUNY campuses.

"I think that the policy has aimed to encourage students to move towards their four year degrees," Long said.

She added that the shift in policy would not affect Geneseo's admissions standards for prospective transfer students or the additional graduation requirements that Geneseo has implemented to supplement the state's general education requirements.

"I think in its best light, the enrollment cap is looking to maintain quality across the university," Long said. "It's tempting in times of financial exigency to run up your enrollments.  That's a tempting idea for many."

Long said that Zimpher's proposed enrollment cap, based on enrollment numbers from 2009, is beneficial to Geneseo. In recent years, Geneseo has exceeded its target enrollment of 5,200 students by an excess of 100 to 200 students per year.