January 19, 2009

State Cuts Force Colleges to Adapt

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New York governor David Paterson (D-N.Y.) has imposed a mid-year budget cut that decreased the state funding to Cornell’s four statutory colleges (Human Ecology, Veterinary Medicine, Agriculture and Life Sciences and the Industrial and Labor Relations) from over $159 to $153 million, according to Ron Seeber, vice provost for land grant affairs. This decrease represents a loss of between 6 and 7 percent of their previous state funding for each of the four colleges.
While the $6 million worth of cuts have already been enacted, a further $2.5 million cut is currently being debated for the 09-10 year, and it will not be voted on by the legislature until the budget is approved at the end of March or early April.
Veterinary college Dean Michael Kotlikoff explained that these cuts are not merely temporary actions taken by the state to combat the economic crisis. The financial cuts to Cornell’s statutory colleges as well as the rest of the State University of New York schools will remain past this year.
While a 6 to 7 percent cut represents a significant sum of money, Kotlikoff explained that the cuts that actually reached the individual colleges could have been worse. Originally, the veterinary college planned on cuts of up to 7.5 percent, but the actual percentage decreased because SUNY and Cornell absorbed a portion of the cuts.
[img_assist|nid=34197|title=Budget Cuts By the Numbers|desc=|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]Seeber explained that Cornell absorbed some of those cuts by cutting back on the amount of money it takes from the colleges. Cornell takes a small percentage of each dollar from the colleges to pay for essential services such as putting in sidewalks, clearing roads, etc. After the cuts were put in place, the University lowered the percentage of each dollar it took from the colleges.
In order to cope with a funding cut, each college has to react with a parallel response: they have to cut programs, internal funding, luxuries, people and more.
“We’ve been reducing our budget,” Kotlikoff said.
The veterinary college has had to lay off staff, defer new hires, decrease equipment and supply budgets and stop programs. Dean of the College of Industrial and Labor Relations Harry Katz said that his college will lay off 17 professionals of ILR’s extension program by June of 2009.
Kotlikoff said the Vet School is uniquely impacted by the state cuts for multiple reasons: First, state funding represents a more significant portion of the overall budget for the veterinary college and agriculture college than for human ecology and ILR.
“In our college, the SUNY funds represent an enormous fraction … essentially all of our discretionary spending,” Kotlikoff said.
Even though all the colleges received a six to seven-percent cut in the their state funds, those cuts are more significant to the colleges who rely more heavily on that state support.
While many SUNY colleges have increased tuition to combat some of the cuts, a tuition increase is not a viable option for the veterinary college. Since the veterinary college tuition is already high, it cannot increase tuition by very much. In addition, the veterinary college’s relatively small student body reduces any impact a tuition increase could have.
Thirdly, the veterinary college is impacted by another set of state cuts. The veterinary college has certain contract programs with the state that either have to be stricken completely or scaled back because the state cannot afford to support them.
“[There is] no way that [the state cut] doesn’t impact in some way our ability to achieve our mission,” Kotlikoff said.
In addition to making cuts of their own, each college has also been forced to prioritize programs, scrutinize operations and expand financial bases.
Kotlikoff explained that before making cuts, the veterinary college had to prioritize what it had to preserve and maintain in order to retain its high reputation. In the process of determining what it had to keep, the veterinary college ascertained what it could afford to lose.
While the colleges determined their priorities, each unit and department of each college had to scrutinize all their operations in order to find out where they could cut costs. Katz explained that ILR limited ordinary expenses in travel, conferences and other administrative operations.
The tremendous impact of the state budget cuts on the veterinary college impressed upon Kotlikoff the need to expand and diversify his college’s financial base. To increase funds, the veterinary college is increasing its service rates at its hospital for small and large animals as well as its diagnostic labs.
ILR looked to its operations off-campus to increase funds and decrease costs, according to Katz. ILR operates extension programs off-campus to train adults for different vocations. In light of the state cuts, ILR has opted to offer many of its extension programs on the Internet, minimizing the costs of offering classes in person. In addition to raising fees to increase revenues, offering the program on the Internet has also increased the amount of people who could take the classes. Katz explained that maintaining the quality of ILR’s undergraduate and graduate programs for the students was of a higher priority than were the college’s off-campus operations.
About all the changes and cuts that each college has been forced to implement, Seeber said, “Hopefully we’ll make it as invisible to students as we possibly can.”