April 5, 2011

In Wake of State Cuts, the University Needs a Plan

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Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature agreed to a budget proposal on Thursday that will cut funding for Cornell’s four statutory colleges by approximately 10 percent, or $14 million.While the University deserves credit for successfully lobbying the state to continue sponsorship for some CALS extension programs, it is important for administrators to recognize that they can no longer rely on state funding if they wish to uphold the collective strength and values of the contract colleges for years to come. Instead, administrators will instead need to promptly develop a strong alternative approach that is financially sustainable.The state cuts to the contract colleges are lamentable. Part of what distinguishes the University from its Ivy League peers is its ability to offer in-state, reduced tuition at three of its seven colleges. These colleges enable students of all socioeconomic backgrounds to attend Cornell and perpetuate the University’s founding mission of providing “any person” an opportunity to receive an elite education. Significantly reduced tuition at these colleges is not something that the University should ever be willing to eliminate.Yet it is also clear that the state can no longer be relied upon to consistently provide funding for those colleges year after year. The SUNY system has seen its budget slashed by about 30 percent over the last four years, and University lobbyists were not able to recover the 10 percent of cuts to the statutory colleges — a figure that remained largely unchanged from the Governor’s original proposal. While it is certainly commendable that Cornell lobbyists were able to salvage some funding for extension programs, if in the future state lawmakers desire once more to discontinue such state sponsorships, there is no guarantee that lobbyists will be successful again.  If these trends continue, it will only be a matter of time until tuition for the contract colleges resembles Cornell’s private ones. Tuition increases for the former are already disproportionately higher than the latter, and the alternative actions of laying off faculty, increasing class sizes or cutting departments will greatly reduce the overall quality of the colleges. Neither would be a satisfactory solution. It is absolutely imperative that the University develop a strong plan now to confront what will likely be increasing budget difficulties in the coming years. The University has given no indication that developing a plan to minimize the effects of state budget cuts into the future is even a priority for the administration. Administrators must approach this problem with urgency. With the integrity of academic programs at stake on the one hand and educational opportunity on the other, it is absolutely necessary to find an informed and balanced approach to buffering the state’s budget cuts. We hope that, with only a year until the next state budget is set to be written, the University will act quickly and decisively to formulate this plan now.