“Stand with SUNY” investment campaign begins

State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher is traveling across New York State to gain support of “Stand with SUNY,” an initiative to increase investment in New York’s 64 SUNY campuses. According to Geneseo’s Vice President for Administration and Finance James B. Milroy, the campaign focuses on continuing the current system of rational tuition increases, base funding from the state and an additional $32 million for innovation.

“At the end of the day, everyone’s asking for more money,” Milroy said. “The question is how does it come and how are the campuses benefitted at the end of the day from the increase in state support and/or your tuition.”

The SUNY2020 plan—which is the investment plan “Stand With SUNY” and Zimpher are advocating for—will not be passed until much closer to the current five-year plan’s expiration date of June 2016.

“I don’t think there’s an assumption that it will pass, but I think we have an exceptional case in SUNY for this investment,” President Denise Battles said. “I certainly appreciate the work the Chancellor and her team are putting into this process.”

If passed, the investment plan would go into effect in 2016 and extend the current five-year plan another five years into 2020––hence the name SUNY2020. Battles described “Stand With SUNY” as an “initiative to re-up the five-year funding model.”

Zimpher is focusing the campaign on both state investment and tuition increases, which are both supported by Geneseo’s administration.

“She feels it’s important to go to where people are so that she can convey that message and tell the story and not assume that people will come to us,” Battles said. “She’s being proactive and making it easy for folks to hear the case and hopefully gain an appreciation for it.”

“I’m highly supportive of everything the Chancellor is asking for,” Milroy said. “They are all hugely important to the operation of this campus, hugely important to your educational experiences and ultimately, in my view, hugely important to the competitiveness of New York State in the global economy.”

The current SUNY investment plan includes “rational tuition,” meaning that tuition increases incrementally instead over five years. Currently, the increase is $300 each year. SUNY2020 would extend the incremental increases in tuition.

“In order for us to really deliver on our promise to the students—to make sure we can recruit and retain those high caliber faculty, to make sure we have the support staff for all of the support systems that students come to really rely on, to make sure that you all are getting the best quality educational experience we can deliver—that requires investment,” Battles said. “I would encourage students to consider a potential tuition increase, but also to consider what the intentions are for the increased resources that we are seeking to increase what we can do for them.”

Rational tuition would make the costs of tuition rise, but the amount has not been decided yet and many different ideas for calculating it are still in consideration.

According to Milroy, in addition to rational tuition, SUNY2020 would increase base funding and innovation funding from New York State. The innovation funding Zimpher is calling for is in the range of $32 million. Any amount of innovation funding Geneseo receives would go to a variety of projects that Milroy calls “white papers,” or initiatives to improve non-classroom aspects of Geneseo such as graduation rates, retention rates and diversity.

Battles has also organized a Strategic Planning Committee—meeting for the first time on Friday Nov. 13—that would assess campus needs and create innovation projects accordingly.

“We do need the additional revenue in order to be able to deal with inflationary cost increase, hire faculty, buy equipment—all the things really necessary to provide for enhancing the educational experience of students,” Milroy said.

None of these can be solidly decided, however, until the state decides where the bill stands on maintenance of effort, which refers to inflationary costs in higher education. Inflationary costs include all costs that rise with time, such as professors’ salaries.

“Would a maintenance of effort provision cover costs that would be associated with core delivery of services? Whether it’s utilities costs, whether it’s the compensation, all of that,” Battles said. “If there is a certain pot of funds generated off a tuition increase, you have to know what else those revenues are obliged to cover before you can make decisions on the portion that is truly available and uncommitted.”

Milroy and Battles both expressed their concern that student tuition raises should be used for enhancing the student’s educational experience instead of paying for increases in faculty salaries or maintenance costs.

“Definition of terms is really, really important and so that’s going to be something that needs to be determined,” Battles said. “If we’re seeing an increase in the investment by our students or whoever is paying the tuition bills for our students, what I want to see is as much of those increases going to enhance the quality of experience for the students.”

“That money should go for your education, not to cover mandatory costs that you had no part in negotiating,” Milroy said.