March 1, 2011

State Cuts Have Minimal Effects on ILR

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Despite a proposed 12 percent cut in state funding, faculty and administrators say the lost revenue will not significantly affect the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. The school has been planning for smaller budgets since the financial crisis in 2007.

The ILR School prepared for declining state funding by streamlining administrative processes, eliminating 50 middle-management and support positions and pruning extension programs, according to Joe Grasso, associate dean for finance, administration and corporate relations in ILR.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposed cut of $880,000 for ILR is part of a larger 30 percent reduction in state funding for the school over three years — from $11.3 million in 2008 to $7.9 million in 2012. The school intends to increase fundraising, boost revenue from executive education offerings and secure more sponsored research to counteract future cutbacks, according to Grasso.

“By being entrepreneurial and diversifying our revenues, we can offset much of the effect of these recent state budget cuts without negatively affecting the quality of the classroom experience or the support services. Although administrators have not eliminated faculty positions or increased class sizes, the continued cuts still led to curtailments. According to Grasso, the school has scaled back some of its outreach programs in Albany and other locations across the state.

“[Some programs] were not performing well financially or were not as relevant as they once were,” Grasso said.

To fill the gap of the declining state allocations to the school, ILR has hired a new fundraiser to aid Dean Harry Katz and Christopher Crooker, assistant dean of development, in acquiring donations and grants. Katz spent the week fundraising in Florida and was unable to comment for this article, according to Administrative Assistant Laura Haley.

Additionally, the deans and extension associates of the ILR school are promoting executive education and consulting services internationally, especially in the Middle East, to further increase revenue. By using cheaper Internet marketing, Grasso said he thinks the initiatives will provide new profits for the school.

Prof. Francine Blau, industrial and labor relations and labor economics, said she fears long-term cuts will still harm the quality of the state’s higher education.

“State schools have been vanguards of important research and great vehicles for upward mobility,” Blau said. “I’m worried this could be threatened nationwide.”

The ILR School, despite cuts to several extension programs, has worked to maintain the same caliber of education by increasing tuition — something that not all state-funded schools are able to do in the face of the governor’s cuts — according to Prof. Ron Ehrenberg, industrial and labor relations and economics. The tuition increases have led to fewer changes to the curriculum, he said.

“As far as I’ve seen, there haven’t been substantial changes since I’ve been here,” said Brian Caulfield ’12, an ILR student.

Although Cuomo plans to distribute cuts more or less evenly across State University of New York schools, Cornell has the freedom to raise its tuition independently of the SUNY system.

“State legislatures don’t understand that the double whammy of state cuts and static tuition results in a diminution in the quality of education,” Ehrenberg said.

Because the ILR School uses undergraduate tuition revenue only for the benefit of undergraduates and not for other activities,such as research and off-site programs, the school’s extension efforts have been scaled down, according to Grasso.

“The last three deans have been very good at generating external funding for the schools, but the real difficulty is in supporting the extension activities because they don’t have stable, good funding sources,” Ehrenberg said.

In the long run, Ehrenberg predicted that contract colleges will appear more like private institutions as they aim to obtain independent endowments and begin to decrease reliance on state funds.

“We look like we’re becoming more private because of continued cuts,” Ehrenberg said. “But we always try to maintain our public mission.”

In the 1980s, 55 percent of the ILR school’s total budget came from state funds, according to Grasso, but in 2012, the college projects that the state will provide just 12 percent of the school’s budget.

“Inevitably, public colleges across the U.S. are becoming more entrepreneurial, diversifying their revenue base, and expanding their philanthropic efforts like private colleges,” Grasso stated in his e-mail.

Blau said she believes that, in spite of external economic challenges, the ILR School has fulfilled its slogan to “advance the world of work.”

“I think the numbers have changed more than the ethos of the school,” Blau said. “We’ve had to tighten our belts in important areas, but we’re doing more with less and maintaining our public mission.”

Reductions may vary when the state Legislature votes on Governor Cuomo’s proposal April 1.

“Our ‘contract’ with New York State is changing as a result of these budget reductions,” Grasso said. “We need to recalibrate.”

Original Author: Dan Robbins