February 2, 2011

Adapting to State Budget Cuts

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The University may lose 12 percent of statutory funding to the contract colleges — or $15.4 million — under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed New York state budget for the next fiscal year. While this decline in the state’s financial commitment to higher education is unfortunate, the University must exercise careful consideration in the way it responds to these reductions.

The cuts will force the University to reassess budget models for the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the College of Human Ecology and the College of Veterinary Medicine. Vice Provost Ron Seeber said these colleges will have to rely more heavily on tuition dollars and external donations to operate in the face of reduced state aid, forcing them to employ a fiscal model more closely resembling Cornell’s endowed colleges.

Contract colleges may also be forced to lay off faculty, increase class sizes or cut programs, Seeber said. In the wake of the education department’s dissolution within CALS this fall, additional cuts and closures would likely be met with similar student and faculty outcry.

In addition, tuition increases for the next academic year are disproportionately higher for the contract colleges than the private colleges. This disparity perpetuates the aforementioned shift among the contract colleges towards a budget model based largely on tuition and alumni gifts, endangering the unique and valuable opportunities these colleges provide.

Cornell is inimitable among its Ivy League peers in that New York State residents qualify for reduced tuition at three of its seven undergraduate colleges, making it an academically and financially appealing option that also contributes to socioeconomic diversity on campus.

While we understand that reducing the University’s budget deficit without cutting programs or hiking tuition is difficult, Day Hall is in danger of losing sight of the contract colleges’ purpose. As tuition costs rise and funding for higher education falls nationwide, the University must again reexamine its role as an educational institution that prides itself on promoting opportunity for “any person” seeking instruction in “any study.”

We urge the University to seek offsets to state funding cuts that do not simultaneously force students to pay more and reduce their scholastic resources, while threatening the breadth of opportunities a Cornell education provides.  Raising tuition and making reductions to faculty and academic programs are knee-jerk reactions that place the brunt of the University’s fiscal burden on the students.

As the University adapts to changes in its contract with the state, it is imperative that it not lose sight of its contract with the students. Cornell undergraduates and graduate students trust the University to provide an excellent education at a fair price. New York’s budget restructuring is not their burden to bear.