Albany – SUNY Chancellor
Nancy L. Zimpher today provided the following testimony at a Joint Legislative
Hearing of the New York State Senate Finance and Assembly Ways & Means
Committees on the 2011-12 Executive Budget.
Good morning and
thank you for having us today. My name is Nancy
Zimpher, and I am Chancellor of the State University of New York.
I want to thank
Chairperson John DeFrancisco and Vice Chairperson Owen Johnson, Chairperson
Denny Farrell, Chairperson Ken LaValle and Chairperson Deborah Glick, members
of the Senate and Assembly, and legislative staff for this opportunity.
It is a privilege
to come before you today on behalf of The State University of New York to
comment on the 2011-2012 Executive Budget.
Who We Are
When I first arrived at SUNY
in June 2009, I recognized SUNY’s potential to meet the demands of a changing
state and a changing world.
We are the largest system of
public higher education in the nation. We have 64 campuses with 468,000
students; a current workforce of 88,000, over 20,000 committed retirees; nearly
8,000 programs of study; and 3 million alumni.
We are an unparalleled
network of teachers, students, scholars, and entrepreneurs that extends into
each of New York’s 62 counties, within 30 miles of every New Yorker. We have
160,000 on-line enrollments and another 1.2 million students in continuing
education; further, 18,000 students seek a SUNY degree from out-of-state, and
another 19,000 students come to SUNY from around the globe.
The boost that SUNY provides New York in economic impact each year is remarkable. For every state dollar received, SUNY
generates $8 in total spending. With a statewide economic impact in the
billions, SUNY’s role stretches from a convener of the minds to one of the most
significant economic engines of our time. We are not only the most
comprehensive higher education system of its kind in the country; we are one of
New York’s largest employers.
Of the many conclusions that
will be made throughout this budget process, one to me is unwaveringly clear:
the past, present, and future of New York State is uniquely tied to its State University. And that’s a partnership we stand willing and able to push to new
What We Do
Any discussion of
the budget and its potential effect on SUNY has to begin with what SUNY is
doing now and what we’ve managed to achieve at a moment of such great fiscal
Without question, at the top of our list of
accomplishments is our strategic plan.
After a 64-campus tour, 10 statewide town
hall meetings, and input from more than 1,000 stakeholders from across the
state, we’ve launched The Power of SUNY, our plan to revitalize the
state’s economy and enhance the quality of life for all New Yorkers. The plan
harnesses our areas of expertise to maximize our potential, enabling our
students and faculty to strengthen SUNY’s impact on critical areas including
entrepreneurship, student success, health, energy, and the expansion of our
knowledge-based enterprise, both locally and globally.
To assist in these efforts, we have created a
network of regional tech transfer hubs in partnership with the SUNY Research
Foundation. These hubs are helping us translate SUNY research into marketable
products and services, finding new ways to make our investment in brainpower
return tangible benefits to the people of New York State.
We’re unlocking new treatments and
vaccines for disease control, including the prevention of ear and lung
infections; inventing geothermal technology under airport runways; developing a
water purification system for communities around the world; and exploring
technologies designed for New York to be a leader in clean energy.
We are also continuing our
efforts to seal the leaking education pipeline. College and career success begins
long before students arrive on our campuses. With support from the Gates
Foundation, SUNY is creating eight Early College High Schools designed to
increase college completion rates among disadvantaged students. We’ve also
secured another $800,000 from the Lumina Foundation to aid adult degree
completion along with paid work experiences. At the same time, our Educational Opportunity Program – long supported
by this body and recognized as among the nation’s most successful paths to
college graduation for low income, first generation students – is providing
excellent opportunities for highly motivated students to succeed at SUNY.
Of course, it doesn’t stop here. Our faculty
– along with many partners – brought to New York over a billion dollars in grants
for sponsored research this year. Thousands of faculty and students are
participating in these grants and putting New York back on the map as the
center of innovation.
And speaking of students – ours are truly the
envy of higher education. Not only are they bright, inquisitive, creative, and
determined in the classroom, but they constantly strive to bring that passion
to what they do outside the classroom. Whether it is providing assistance in Haiti, tutoring local high school students, volunteering at non-profits, or interning at
local businesses – the impact of SUNY students reaches far and wide. And
perhaps most impressive today is their courage and maturity in taking a stance
on tuition. Their demand for a rational tuition policy should make us all confident
in their ability to provide the next generation of leadership for New York and the world. Leading that charge is Julie Gondar, of East Greenbush, President
of the SUNY Student Assembly. She’s one of our best and brightest and you’ll
have the opportunity to hear from her today as well.
And for two last pieces of
good news, 11 SUNY campuses were listed in the “Top 100 Best Values in Public
Colleges,” as noted by Kiplinger’s Personal Finance. This is the highest number
of campuses named from any state in the nation, let alone other systems.
And six of our 4-year campuses have been recognized by the Education Trust as
among the very best in the nation for graduating minority students at the same
or even higher rates than the average graduation rates. When it comes to access
and affordability for students, our State University is #1 – and that’s a title
we have no intention of ever giving up.
Where We Stand
With all of the great things
happening at SUNY, there are also back-breaking challenges we face daily. Just
as Governor Andrew Cuomo characterized New York State, higher education also
stands at a crossroads. Less public investment, greater public demand, and
rapidly shifting economic sands require us to be increasingly agile.
The campuses in
your districts and around the state continue to provide a top-notch education
to thousands of students each year. Thanks to the leadership of our Board of
Trustees and the keen expertise of all our campus presidents, we have managed
more demands with significant decreases in funding through the implementation
of creative solutions, hard work, and a true dedication to a greater cause. In
the face of unprecedented fiscal hurdles, these efforts have kept SUNY strong.
SUNY is strong …
but it is not invincible. With a negative impact of $1.1 billion over the past
three years, and the potential for that figure to reach $1.5 billion with the
enactment of this executive budget, SUNY’s ability to provide the breadth and
quality of its programs and services is threatened. With a total percentage
decrease in funding of nearly 35% over the past four years, we have already
seen our capacity to deliver programs and services diminished on our campuses –
including hiring freezes, increased
reliance on adjunct faculty, reductions in course offerings, increases in class
size, and already announced decisions to limit enrollments or otherwise
Last year was not an easy one
for the State University of New York. Not only did we bear an additional $442
million in cuts and unfunded mandatory costs, we also were unable to convince
public policy makers to take steps toward critical reforms that we fought so
hard to achieve.
Our agenda was not only
ambitious; it was the right thing to do for our state. And in the end, we
learned some hard lessons about an uphill climb and heavy lifting.
First, we learned how
important it is to SUNY’s future that we develop comprehensive and thoughtful
state policies to fuel our success.
Second, our success must be
more effectively translated to our constituents and champions as a win for our
students, parents and families, and the people of New York. We have to be much
more forthright about our belief that as SUNY goes, so goes New York and vice
Since we cannot carry this
message alone, we need to work harder at building better advocacy among our
faculty, students, staff, alumni and friends, and our elected officials.
We also learned that we are
quite fortunate to have a new partner in Governor Andrew Cuomo, who we believe
will be a staunch advocate for our great university system. We are excited
about his leadership. He has recognized that SUNY plays a significant role in
the revitalization of our economy, because we are the university for the State
of New York.
SUNY produces the graduates
who become employees and continued residents of New York. But we also help to
create jobs for New Yorkers via business incubators and tech transfer. And in
many communities, we are one of the largest employers. Recognizing us as an
economic backbone and a driver of the knowledge economy validates everything we
do and work to achieve.
And perhaps most importantly,
we learned that SUNY must be far more vocal about what we know to be our
unequivocal commitment to access and success. Specifically, we understand and
embrace our role in delivering to the state a high quality education that is
both accessible and affordable. And we just can’t ever de-couple SUNY’s
commitment to access from our responsibility to graduate students in a timely
Access is perhaps the most
important gateway to enhanced quality of life for our students and their
families and the pathway to professional success.
Individuals who enter the workforce with a 2-
or 4-year degree have more successful careers and earn higher salaries than
those who lack them. This is a fact, and it is why protecting access is central
to our mission at SUNY.
But there is something equally as important
as access – and that is completion. Let me repeat what I just said a moment
ago: individuals who enter the workforce with a 2- or 4-year degree have more
successful careers and earn higher salaries. The key word here is “degree” –
they have completed their course work and graduated. If we admit students that
we aren’t able to graduate in a timely manner – either because budget cuts have
resulted in fewer programs and course sections or even fewer student advisors –
then we are not only hurting our students in the long term, we are denying the
state a qualified work force.
We must ensure access AND success. It is not
only a matter of SUNY’s responsibility to create opportunities for individual
students, or even of its ability to drive the economic future of this state.
The quality of our teaching, research, and service must remain paramount if we
are to realize positive outcomes or results.
The principle that guides our
every action at SUNY is excellence in education. Our obligation as a state
university is to maintain the academic quality that best serves the needs of
our students, faculty, and all New Yorkers at the lowest possible cost. Our
welcome mat must extend from Niagara Falls to Montauk Point. To achieve this in the midst of our economic crisis is a
In a speech calling
for the U.S. to once again lead the world in higher education, President Obama
said education is "the economic issue of our times." He added,
"It’s an economic issue when the unemployment rate for folks who’ve never
gone to college is almost double what it is for those who have. It’s an
economic issue when nearly eight in 10 new jobs will require workforce training
or a higher education by the end of this decade. It’s an economic issue when we
know beyond a shadow of a doubt that countries that out-educate us today will
out-compete us tomorrow."
In summary of
lessons learned, if I were to pick a theme for SUNY in this year’s legislative
season, it would be “partnership”. We must work together to find ways in which
the State University can thrive to its fullest potential. At the same time, we
must protect the citizens of our state. I am certain we can achieve this goal
if we can join together as partners this year and in years to come.
What We Need
I’ve told you
about SUNY’s most recent accomplishments and lessons learned in last year’s
budget process. Now I’d like to clearly articulate the going forward strategy
for SUNY’s budget needs; in short, what we need to keep this great State
University of New York continuously improving, better serving the people of New York, and leading New York’s economic revitalization.
We must cut
the red tape that is strangling SUNY’s procurement of essential goods. If our hospitals cannot quickly purchase
the life-saving tools they need … if our campuses cannot provide our students
with the educational tools they need in a timely manner … then we simply cannot
do our jobs efficiently. The hurdles we face in the procurement of goods force
us to spend more tax-payer dollars and to fall behind on our promise of
excellence to New Yorkers.
We must allow
SUNY to enter into public-private partnerships with more cost-efficient and
growth-oriented regulatory relief. We know that these reforms will advance our core mission and
values and that they can at the same time protect collective-bargaining rights.
It’s essential that we attract the interest of the private sector, while
simultaneously protecting the interests of the public, allowing us to generate
additional revenue and create the jobs our state so desperately needs. One only
needs to look closely at the 100 acre Centennial Park at North Carolina State
University to understand the power and impact that such a research park is
having in that state; not unlike the extraordinary partnership that exists at
UAlbany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering with the private sector.
We have already been working
with Senator LaValle and our union partners to come to agreement on procurement
reforms. We hope to do the same with public-private partnerships. Of course, we
greatly appreciate the Governor's support for these badly needed and
long-overdue regulatory reforms and look forward to working with Assemblymember
Glick and her colleagues to make these a reality. SUNY has brought these zero-cost
solutions to the table at a time when New York must be open to ideas for
reforms are essential, we also remain
deeply concerned about our mounting fiscal challenges and how they will impact
our ability to provide a quality experience for our students.
We must reach a mutually acceptable agreement
on “maintenance of effort.” We understand the seriousness of New York's financial
crisis and agree that everyone must do his or her part for the good of all New
Yorkers. Governor Cuomo has laid out an ambitious plan to address the root
cause of our state's fiscal problems, and he deserves credit for his effort to
make New York live within its means.
So while we certainly applaud the Governor
for his courage to face our current budget crises, I have to say, for the
record, that after years of significant cuts to SUNY’s operating budget, many
are concerned, including students and faculty, about the University’s
continuing ability to provide access to a quality education. Yet, the State’s
economic reality cannot be ignored. So, in an effort to balance support for our
critical mission against the economic realities of our time, we must, at the
very least, begin a genuine and productive discussion regarding the State’s
long term commitment to funding the State University of New York.
We must revisit support for the life-line in
three of New York’s key communities through the public hospitals that serve our
Academic Medical Centers and the patients of Syracuse, Brooklyn and Long Island. We
are deeply troubled about the Governor’s proposal to eliminate state support
for SUNY hospitals. This action will spell devastating consequences for these
institutions and the communities they serve.
Our hospitals have already absorbed more than
$479 million in cuts and unsupported mandatory costs imposed by the state over
the past three years.
This year’s budget
proposal completely eliminates what was left of their state support – $179
million. Factor in a $25 million increase in their state retirement
system bill, and a yet-to-be-determined level of Medicaid cuts – conservatively
estimated to be over $30 million – and we’re looking at an impact of
approximately $209 million in the coming year, bringing the four-year impact on
just three hospital facilities to over $700 million.
A cut of this magnitude will have
a devastating impact on the hospitals’ ability to deliver critical care to over
one million patients per year, educate New York’s future healthcare workforce,
and continue to be major employers in their communities. I urge reconsideration
of this approach to the SUNY hospital subsidy.
We must also take this
to ask you to consider restoring at least some of the massive reduction of
state aid to SUNY’s community colleges, and state operated institutions.
In the Governor’s budget, community colleges
were cut by $226 per full-time equivalent student – $33 million in total –
which is in addition to $56 million in cuts over the past three years. The
community colleges have been grateful for the infusion of the federal stimulus
funds in the last two budget cycles. However, from the very beginning,
presidents and business officers were acutely aware that this was one-time
funding and they began to think about the time for hard decisions that would be
required once those funds were gone. That time is now.
The state-operated institutions were cut $150
million, added to $619 million already cut over the past three years. I do not
make this request lightly. I understand full well the constraints on New York’s finances in this economic environment. However, I feel strongly that we owe it
to all of our constituents, especially our students, faculty, and staff to
advocate for this reinvestment.
And finally, we must address the issue of
To its credit, New York has done an outstanding job of
limiting reliance on tuition to support SUNY’s operations. At $4,970 per
year at our state operated institutions, SUNY’s tuition is among the lowest in
the nation. Thanks to the Tuition Assistance Program – TAP – any New York State resident who seeks a SUNY education will not be denied because of diminished
financial means. However, the means by which we have achieved this tuition rate
have been anything but fair.
Over the last 48 years SUNY
has been allowed to raise tuition only 13 times. The smallest tuition increase
was 7 percent ($310) in 2009-2010. The highest increase was 43 percent ($650)
in 1991-1992. Seventeen times since 1963, a first-year student entered SUNY and
during his or her college career never had to pay a tuition increase while others
saw two or three increases.
SUNY needs a tuition policy
that is fair, predictable, and responsible.
- Fair because it protects access and affordability.
- Predictable because it allows students and families to plan
over a 5-year period.
- Responsible because all of it is invested in completion.
As Student Assembly President
Julie Gondar said in her recent statement calling for a rational tuition plan,
“We understand that the Governor is concerned about pricing students out by
raising tuition but that won’t even be an issue if their program can’t be found
in the SUNY system.”
So I ask all of you today to partner with
SUNY in establishing a five-year tuition plan, similar to the successful cycle
you have so wisely provided for our capital planning.
I know we’ve put
a lot out on the table today. It is no small task to run the nation’s largest State University, and it is no small responsibility for the state it serves. There will
always be spirited discussion around the best way to move the university
forward but in the end, everyone in this room wants the best possible system of
public higher education for New York State. Everyone in this room wants to
maintain access, keep SUNY affordable, and rejuvenate New York’s workforce with
new jobs and a newly skilled citizenry. I know we can make this a reality by
harnessing our collective passion for progress.
Thank you for giving us this time
to lay out the vision of what we believe public higher education can do for the
State of New York – and what together we can do to make that vision a reality.
We are happy to take your
About the State University of New York
The State University of New
York is the largest comprehensive university system in the United States, educating more than 467,000 students in more than 7,500 degree and
certificate programs on 64 campuses with more than 2.5 million alumni around
the globe. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit www.suny.edu