2012 Public Hearing on Cost of Higher Education

Public Hearing on the Cost of Higher Education

New York State Assembly Committee on Higher Education
Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher
Wednesday, December 12, 2012


Good morning. I want to thank Chairperson Deborah Glick, members of the Assembly, and legislative staff for allowing us this opportunity.

It is a privilege to come before you today to comment on how we are maintaining affordability in higher education.

SUNY is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the country. We are comprised of 64 college campuses that span the higher education spectrum. From our 30 community colleges, which account for about half of our total student enrollment, to our esteemed university centers and hospitals, the SUNY system enrolls nearly 468,000 students.


SUNY has always been an excellent destination for students seeking a quality post-secondary education at a price they can afford, and we continue to fulfill this role today.

Over the past five years, our state-operated campus enrollment has grown by 4.4 percent. At the same time, enrollment at SUNY community colleges has rapidly expanded, growing by 14.5 percent.

During this time, SUNY educated more than 35 percent of college students in New York, including more than a quarter of those students seeking a bachelor's degree or higher, and more than 65 percent of those students pursuing a 2-year degree.

This trend is consistent across time, with SUNY's first-time new student enrollment slightly increasing this year, along with the number of students transferring to SUNY.

And we are proud to tell you that minority students make up 29 percent of the SUNY student population – an all-time high.


When it comes to cost, SUNY is the lowest in the Northeast and in the bottom quartile nationally. Since 2007-08, SUNY's resident undergraduate tuition and fees at the state-operated campuses have remained consistently lower than, or relatively constant with, the same rates offered by our peer states.

Resident undergraduate tuition and fees at SUNY's 30 community colleges during this time has also remained constant and affordable.

But costs are going up, for us as we deliver education and for our students as they get one. SUNY has consistently struck the right balance for New York between quality and access, and the system has never settled for a loss in either.


In 2011, this legislature, in partnership with Governor Andrew Cuomo enacted the NYSUNY 2020 legislation, which served as a true enabler in allowing SUNY to keep that promise to the people of New York.

Chairperson Glick, I am so glad to have such a public forum to thank you once again you for the important role you played in making NYSUNY 2020 a reality. Your sponsorship of that bill is much appreciated.

Among other measures, NYSUNY 2020 provided SUNY and its students with a rational tuition plan. Now law, Chapter 260 of the Laws of 2011 authorize SUNY and CUNY to put in place annual tuition increases of up to three hundred dollars for five years.

This was designed to ensure that our public colleges and universities have adequate resources to hire more faculty, educate more students, increase class offerings, and improve graduation rates – all necessary aspects if we are to continue to make good on our promise of accessible, affordable public higher education.

From day one, the intent of this policy has been to ensure that our tuition policies were fair because they protected access and affordability, predictable because they allowed students and families to plan ahead, and responsible because all of the additional revenue would be invested in completion.

We believe rational tuition has lived up to these promises and are proud to say that we have been able to take it one step further.

The SUNY tuition credit ensures that as SUNY tuition increases, New York's neediest students are held harmless. All TAP recipients receive a tuition credit based on a percentage of their award, while those receiving maximum TAP are covered for the full amount of the annual tuition increase. Because the credit is funded by tuition revenue and is shared among campuses at 25 percent of that revenue, all campuses provide a fair share of funding.

And of course, none of this would be sustainable without the State's commitment to maintenance of effort. For the first time in recent memory, the line has been held on state funding for public higher education, maintaining General Fund operating support for state-operated campuses at prior-year levels. This allows us to better serve our students and directly reinvest their tuition dollars in additional academic and student support services that they directly benefit from.


I am pleased to share that this legislation is working effectively on many fronts. First - not only has the increased tuition level provided much needed resources for our campuses, but enrollment and retention rates of our current students remain steady.

This legislation has resulted in 75 million additional dollars being available for academic and student services in 2011-12, with a similar amount projected for the current year. Of this, SUNY will have utilized over $30 million of this increase by the end of 2012-13 for the tuition credit, ensuring no negative impact on our most economically challenged students.

By the end of the 2012-13 academic year, SUNY plans to increase its faculty by nearly 200 positions to reduce student / faculty ratios, reinvest funds in specific programs tied to student services and success, and work to reverse damages caused by the recent financial crisis.

SUNY has always recognized that revenue realized from the rational tuition increases should be used for the benefit of New York students, and is dedicated to investing in such services.


To further ensure that we use this and other revenue wisely, SUNY began the implementation of an innovative system-wide resource re-alignment strategy in 2011-12. The strategy is designed to improve efficiency, generate cost savings, and build capacity in wide-ranging areas such as IT transformation, administrative alliances, collaborative re-alignment of academic programs, and campus alliance networks.

As of September, this commitment to sharing services within SUNY had produced more than $6 million in savings in the first year alone, a number that continues to grow as best practices emerge from our campuses throughout New York and we continue to leverage our systemness to bring these cost-sharing opportunities to scale. And like our stance on the new revenue generated by rational tuition increases, these cost savings are also being reinvested in academic instruction and student support services.

In addition, SUNY has taken an extensive look at how it allocates essential State resources. Facing reductions in State support of nearly 30 percent since 2007-08, we have embarked on a collaborative and thorough exercise to revamp the methodology used to allocate State funds. This endeavor was founded on simple and clear principles, informed by the insight and advice of each state-operated campus, and ensures that we are using State fund to the best benefit of our students.

The driving principles of this new resource allocation model are:

The resulting model will allow SUNY to react swiftly to both pedagogical and economic needs of its students and the State.


With all of this on the table, we must keep in mind that New York State has always been a leader nationally in its attempts to keep the cost of attending a public college affordable. In fact, Maritime ranks 5th, Stony Brook ranks 21st, and Binghamton 27th, out of 395 public colleges on what a student pays to attend versus what they get back in lifetime earnings.

This is largely thanks to our state's commitment to important programs like the Tuition Assistance Program. TAP provides nearly $180 million to approximately 65,000 students attending SUNY state-operated colleges. The neediest students receive $5,000 annual TAP awards, with the average student receiving $2,800. Combined, TAP and the SUNY tuition credit cover tuition.

Federally, Pell Grants provide nearly $280 million to approximately 70,000 students attending SUNY colleges. Students receiving max TAP also receive a Pell Grant of $5,500, while the average student receives a Pell Grant of $4,100. Additionally, approximately 267,000 SUNY students borrow through direct loans each year. According to recent U. S. Department of Education statistics, more than 75,000 SUNY students entered repayment during the most recent cohort year, while 6,000 students fell into default during the same time period.  Forty percent of SUNY students, about the same as the national average, graduate without loan debt.

Thanks to both these state and federal initiatives, an average TAP and Pell recipient will receive aid sufficient to cover SUNY tuition with some portion available for other costs.


And of course, SUNY's own dedication to student accessibility remains strong.

The average indebtedness of a SUNY graduate is $22,575, below the national average of $26,600. We are proud that students borrow less to attend our campuses, but we can't stop there. We want to encourage students to make sound financial decisions by borrowing only what they need.

Our SUNY Smart Track campaign is the most proactive, comprehensive approach by any university system in the U.S. to address a growing national concern about the lack of transparency as it relates to college costs and financial aid, and the amount of federal loan debt accumulated by today's college students.

SUNY Smart Track will reduce debt among students at the system's 64 colleges and universities by providing students, parents, and campuses with new tools and services including a new SUNY Award Letter that adopts the federal Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, expansion of our Student Loan Service Center, early engagement with high risk students as flagged by the U.S. Department of Education, and online resources such as a net price calculator, chats with financial aid experts, and financial literacy materials.


Rational tuition. Tuition credits. Maintenance of effort. Shared services. Resource allocation. State and federal financial assistance. SUNY Smart Track.

All put in place to help SUNY students succeed in college and following graduation.

All investments that SUNY and New York are making in students as students invest more in us.

We are proud to be working hand-in-glove with state officials like each of you, and with a federal administration that has placed due importance on higher education – both its quality and its affordability.

Thank you. We are happy to take your questions.

Government Relations