New SUNY allocation model slippery slope to privatization

I’ve read Maddy Smith’s news article, “SUNY releases enrollment-based Resource Allocation Model,” a few times now, and I am scared. I am frightened that a pattern and trajectory I began to notice when I reported on SUNY budgets in my tenure at Geneseo is more real and threatening than I let myself believe. Within the parameters set by the last half-decade of financial troubles and its “solutions,” is it still possible to envision SUNY as a public institution of truly “higher” education? 

I should start by saying that I see the logic and it seems fair that schools with more students should receive more funding. The analogy isn’t perfect, but if I heard that a public high school with 200 students was receiving the same exact public funding as a high school with 2,000 students, I’d be upset at the inequality between funding per student. 

There are many things that trouble me about this allocation model, though. Primarily, I am concerned by the sheer ratio between the number of schools that would see increased funding versus the number of schools that would see decreased funding from this pool of money. 

According to Smith’s article, 11 of the 13 comprehensive colleges, five of the eight technology colleges and one of the four university centers would see decreases in funding. That means that a majority of these schools would each see a loss in resources so that a minority would benefit. I know that actual enrollment figures should balance everything out, but remaining at the institutional level, this solution seems troubling. Why not allow the university centers to charge a rationally higher tuition? Students at Stony Brook, Buffalo, Binghamton and Albany may have to compete with more peers for access to resources, but the resources available at these research institutions are simply greater than the other SUNY schools; perhaps these students should pay a slightly higher tuition?

But to elaborate on what most troubles me: The context in which this allocation model has developed is unacceptable. SUNY students, past and present, should be complaining about this. I look at the aforementioned pattern, the path from the crisis of 2008 and the terrible cuts that followed, the program deactivations not only at Geneseo but at Albany and elsewhere as well, the consolidations of multiple campuses under single college presidents, and the recent reallocation of funding, and I see a trajectory toward the privatization of higher education. And that scares me beyond belief. 

State support cannot exist in a crippling, debilitating context in which public higher education should be forced to make these kinds of decisions. This is the projected loss of SUNY 2020: Since schools can raise their tuition to close budget gaps, the state doesn’t feel the same contractual obligation to fund them. And if resource allocation is 87 percent based on enrollment, then at a college like Geneseo where enrollment isn’t going to increase at a rate comparable to rising rational tuition, students will inevitably wind up paying more tuition while their school sees less resources from the state – based on SUNY’s own rules. 

If you want to kill a community but don’t want to dirty your own hands, sometimes it’s best to make conditions so unbearable that the community destroys itself.

- Jesse Goldberg, Class of 2012