April 3, 2011

New York State Slashes Funding for Contract Colleges

Print More

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature agreed Thursday to a $132 billion budget that reduces the state’s $10 billion deficit primarily through broad cuts to health care, local governments and, among other recipients of state funding, education.

Although student financial aid and many of Cornell’s agricultural outreach programs were spared, the University was not immune to the broad-reaching budget reductions. Lawmakers approved $289 million in cuts to the State University of New York system — an approximately 10-percent reduction that will also cut the state’s funding for Cornell’s four statutory colleges by about 10 percent, or approximately $14 million.

“If this is the worst of it and from now on the state makes some wise investments and doesn’t have to do a lot of cutting, I think we can consider higher ed [in N.Y.] lucky,” said Charles Kruzansky, the director of Cornell’s government affairs office. “I look at other states … where state aid is cut in half, and all those states are less generous to higher education than New York. It could happen here. It hasn’t.”

Funding for Contract Colleges Cut

The approved budget will, however, significantly reduce state funding for the SUNY system, which has seen its budget slashed by about 30 percent over the last four years, according to Kruzansky.

State funding to Cornell will drop from about $137 million to about $123 million — a “big cut, which the legislature never seriously worked to mitigate,” Kruzansky said. He added that if Cuomo, who said the reductions were necessary to deal with a budget crisis, “holds to his word … and this is the biggest cut we’re going to get, we can live with this.”

The state allocates a general fund to Cornell, and the money is then subdivided among the contract colleges by the central administration, so the funding reduction for each college has not yet been determined, according to Senior Associate Dean of the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences Max Pfeffer.

Pfeffer added that, since the approved budget closely mirrors Cuomo’s proposal on Feb. 1, CALS had been preparing for the cuts.

“We’ve been very careful in terms of planning for the coming year, so we should be able to weather that cut reasonably well,” Pfeffer said. “This year, with the budget in the shape that it is, we were expecting it to be the cut we’d have to live with.”

Still, he said the reductions pose challenges to CALS, which is reliant on state funding.

“[The reduction] will affect our ability to hire in coming years and the extent we will be able to participate in the faculty renewal initiative in coming years — a big issue for us,” Pfeffer said. “It’s really important for us to hire professors and maintain our capacity so we can have research and programs … It’s how our college contributes to the state in unique ways.”

Joe Grasso, associate dean for finance, administration and corporate relations in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations, said ILR was well-equipped to handle the cuts.

“The importance of this is that it’s a long term decline, and we as a contract college have to continue to diversify our revenues and continue to be more entrepreneurial in order to replace the state funding,” Grasso said.

He added that ILR made “significant reductions in mostly non-personnel service components” to deal with the cuts, but that they would not affect the school’s ability to bring in new faculty.

While a press release from President David Skorton praised Cuomo and the state legislature for “successfully producing an on-time budget that addresses the state’s fiscal challenges,” Skorton said the SUNY reductions will result in “significant program adjustments in the University’s four state-supported schools.”

Agriculture Programs Saved

After Cuomo proposed eliminating several extension programs in CALS, Cornell lobbyists worked successfully to restore their funding.

“I’m really delighted that they restored this funding; these are important programs that reach a lot of people,” Pfeffer said of the programs, which include Cornell’s Integrated Pest Management program, the Pro-Dairy program and the Agriculture Education Outreach program.

Pfeffer added he believes the programs’ funding was restored because “there were real needs for these programs — they really reach out to stakeholders throughout the state, and there was a lot of concern how the budget would affect upstate communities.”

Director of Pro-Dairy Prof. Tom Overton, animal science, called the decision to restore the program’s funding “tremendous.”

“We were really at risk … the fact that the legislature got involved, that the governor got involved, was absolutely huge,” Overton said. “It’s always been about Cornell’s ability to offer something for agriculture and the dairy industry in the state.”

Pfeffer added that the state restored funding for Cornell’s FarmNet and FarmLink, which also faced elimination.

“These are farm family assistance programs that help provide advice to farm families in dealing with various issues,” Pfeffer said. “We’re really happy those have come back.”

Skorton also praised the state government for its decision to save some CALS’ programming.

“State-funded research in Cornell’s colleges of Veterinary Medicine and Agriculture and Life Sciences results in a safe milk supply and new farms and food businesses across the state,” Skorton said. “The governor and legislators should be commended for supporting initiatives that protect and promote public health and the rural economy.”

Student Aid

Skorton also thanked Cuomo and state lawmakers for protecting student financial aid programs from the broad-reaching cuts.

“In the most difficult budget situation this state has faced in many years, the governor and legislature made the decision to protect the Tuition Assistance Program and Educational Opportunity Programs for New York students with financial need,” Skorton said.

Kruzansky agreed.

“We worked really hard to make sure he didn’t cut [financial aid] in his own budget … We were expecting they would cut those programs,” Kruzansky said.

Although funding for student financial aid was protected, Cornell administrators worried about the long-term decline of state funding for higher education.

“Cuomo [will] put out a budget again next year and will likely have to make more cuts; we are going to be working hard to make sure he sees value of higher ed and Cornell,” Kruzansky said.

Original Author: Jeff Stein