November 3, 2003

Budget Cuts Affect Tuition

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The inauguration of a new president has marked the beginning of a new chapter in Cornell history. The fate of important issues which directly impact students, however, such as tuition, academic programs and the availability of classes outside one’s college cannot be genuinely determined until New York State releases its new budget — a lengthy process that usually begins in January. Because budget cuts over the past years have dramatically impacted Cornell’s statutory colleges and indirectly affected the endowed colleges, both the University and its various colleges have begun implementing new strategies to curb costs. Unfortunately for students, the traditional way the financial burdens have been relieved has been through tuition increases.

Budget cuts have a “direct impact on tuition because the cost of education is not static,” said Patsy Brannon, dean of the College of Human Ecology. “We have had unmet inflation needs for facilities, [such as] the library … all of which affect the cost of education.”

Robert Smith, associate dean for Academic Affairs in the School of Industrial Relations, concurred, saying that a reduction in state funding has “made [ILR] more dependent on tuition.”

In addition, many of the alternative methods originally used by the statutory colleges to relieve the financial burden have become slowly exhausted or not affective enough.

“We have in some cases used the limited reserves we had,” Brannon said. “We have [also] decreased the number of our faculty and staff, that is a very real decrease, approximately 15 percent.”

ILR has also suffered some reduction in staff, primarily in “the ILR extension area the last couple of years,” Smith said.

Also, according to Brannon, certain academic programs such as the Undergraduate Social Work program in the human ecology college have been eliminated due to budget constraints. “During [such] constraints there are losses in academic opportunities,” Brannon added, which “drives the rate at which tuition increases.”

Net tuition at the statutory schools has also been increased in a second, more indirect, manner. “There is an unwritten rule that the state schools should admit 70 percent in-state students and 30 percent out-of-state students,” said Mark Wysocki, earth and atmospheric sciences.

However, many of the statutory schools have recently begun making efforts to attract more out-of-state students. “We have been looking very carefully at what is the appropriate balance between in-state and out-of-state students [and] we are moving to 60 percent in-state and 40 percent out-of-state,” Brannon said.

ILR has also made efforts to increase the number of out-of-state students enrolled. “We are marketing more out of state so we have more out-of-state students applying,” Smith said. Smith made it clear, however, that despite efforts to increase out-of-state enrollment, a student’s state residence does not affect the likelihood of admittance. “We don’t really look at state residence when we look at a folder,” Smith explained.

Besides efforts to increase income through tuition, many of the statutory schools have employed other revenue raising techniques more typical of endowed colleges. For example, as the availability of federal and state research money has declined over the years, “contract colleges have become more successful in [obtaining] competitive grants for research,” said Francille Firebaugh, vice provost for Land Grant Affairs.

Each of the colleges has made efforts to increase endowment money and financial support from research institutions and companies not directly affiliated with Cornell.

“We have been working very hard on enhancing revenue from the endowments and gifts that provide us [with] very important budget relief,” Brannon said.

“We now have to look even more intensely than before to support our research and outreach extension,” he added.

In addition to increasing tuition and searching for financial support, the statutory colleges have been forced to review the number of classes they allow their students to take outside of the school. Though the number differs from college to college, “students in Ag can take 55 credits outside of CALS and if a student takes 55 of those credits in Arts, the Ag school then has to pay Arts at the end of the semester for each of those credits,” Wysocki said. The same rule applies to all the colleges. Thus, “colleges try to get most of their students to take classes in their own college, and if they are lucky … they bring in students from the other colleges,” Wysocki added. Historically, “the state helps us with paying the endowed side for courses that students in the [statutory] colleges take in the endowed [colleges],” Firebaugh said. However, “that amount [has] continued to be flat and less as the years go on.” Changes in the number of classes that students in the statutory colleges are allowed to take in the endowed colleges would also alter the financial situation of the endowed colleges. For example, “if CALS were to reduce the number to 20, the Engineering and Arts schools would lose money since many students in AG currently take classes in those [endowed] schools,” Wysocki said. Nonetheless, Firebaugh assured students that the financial difficulties surrounding the situation will not be passed on. “We have not penalized students for that and Cornell as a whole always keeps students from being affected.”

The endowed colleges are also affected by state budget fluctuations in more direct ways. “State support affects financial aid and Bundy aid, a program that provides dollars per degree granted at private institutions in New York,” said Carolyn Ainslie, vice president of Planning and Budget.

Despite the difficulties, efforts to increase revenue for all the colleges have also been made at the University level through state lobbying. “We work closely with SUNY in trying to increase Cornell’s fair share of the pie,” said Ainslie. “We actually meet with members of the legislature and the government’s office,” Ainslie added. Furthermore, “we have been talking about a strategy: trying to work with other institutions of higher education to try to lobby together on these issues.”

The Department of Government Affairs created by President Lehman over the summer is the primary division responsible for lobbying members of the legislature. Interim Vice President Steven Johnson describes the lobbying as “a continuous process of being involved with the legislature and being sure that the state agency people know what is being done with state dollars that we have received … lobbying kind of goes on year-round.”

For now, the University is running on the 2003 budget; “the governor proposes the [new] budget in January,” Johnson said.

Until then, many of the colleges “have been trying to look ahead and plan on certainly not an increasing state budget,” Firebaugh said.

Archived article by David Andrade