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Area SUNY Presidents, Business Leaders Ask Lawmakers to Invest in SUNY

Presidents from North Country area State University of New York campuses and local community leaders urged state elected officials on Monday to continue their bold leadership in supporting New York's public higher education sector, asking for the creation of a new Investment Fund and an extension of NYSUNY 2020 — including the broadly successful rational tuition policy — in the 2015-2016 New York State Budget.

A key component of SUNY’s budget request is a dedicated Investment Fund that will enable SUNY to graduate 150,000 students annually by 2020 through the systemwide scale-up of evidence-based programs known to support student success, including Finish in Four completion promises, applied learning, Educational Opportunity Programs, and expanded advisement services. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher outlined this objective in her recent State of the University Address. 

'Investment in our students'

SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling, who joined others in speaking at the Angell College Center on the SUNY Plattsburgh campus, pointed to the local impact of such investments — from jobs to added course offerings.

"The SUNY Investment Fund is an investment in our students and our state’s economy," Ettling said. "Our SUNY campuses play a vital role in the economy of the region. More than 1,600 full- and part-time people are employed at SUNY Plattsburgh. The current rational tuition plan has allowed us to hire new faculty members and increase course offerings. Additional funding for student support services, such as the EOP, could help us meet the growing demand for access to higher education."

SUNY Potsdam President Kristin Esterberg agreed, noting the need for "high-impact learning experiences."

“I can’t think of a more critical investment than in the future leaders of New York state," she said. "SUNY Potsdam is proud to offer the Potsdam Promise, our guarantee that students can ‘finish in four.’ But we can’t stop there. We are embarking on a new program that will ensure that every single SUNY Potsdam graduate has the opportunity to complete one or more high-impact learning experiences, like internships, research, service learning or study abroad. We have to make sure students from all backgrounds can benefit from an affordable SUNY education, through EOP and student support services. An investment in SUNY can ensure that both our programs and our facilities are state of the art, and that our campuses remain economic drivers for the North Country and beyond.”

Greater earning potential

Clinton Community College President Fred Smith pointed to the direct benefits to communities, including construction and synergy with local businesses.

"Investments in SUNY pay real dividends for communities, including those in the North Country," he said. "Individuals with associate degrees have greater earning potential than those with a high school diploma alone. The $12.7 million grant-funded Advanced Manufacturing Institute at Clinton Community College will create educational programs that will strengthen both the skills of area residents and the capacity of local industries that employ them. This state-of-the-art facility, in collaboration with SUNY Plattsburgh and Clarkson University, will grow jobs, grow the area's economic base, and is a classic example of how SUNY responds to area needs."

Since NYSUNY 2020 was first enacted, SUNY campuses have used additional revenue generated by rational tuition to grow and expand student services, including the hiring of 520 net new instructional staff, 270 of who are full-time faculty, and the implementation of 100 new degree programs reflecting high-demand areas in New York’s workforce. Additionally, SUNY continues to be a huge economic driver for the state, serving 3 million New Yorkers every year—including students, faculty, staff, and more—and an economic powerhouse that generates $21 billion annually for New York.

Under the rational tuition plan, resident tuition rate increases of up to $300 annually allow for stable, predictable increases. A maintenance of effort (MOE) provision ensures stable year-to-year state funding. Other provisions include a supplement to the state's Tuition Assistance Program where SUNY covers the difference between tuition and the maximum program award so high-need students gain full benefits.

Allows students to 'plan ahead'

The benefits of rational tuition are supported by students, said Kevin Clayton, a junior political science and business major from Manorville, N.Y., and SUNY Plattsburgh Student Association president.

"Rational tuition protects students from unexpected tuition increases," he said. "This allows them to plan ahead so they can pay for their education."

Speaking from the business community, Plattsburgh-North Country Chamber of Commerce President Garry Douglas said economic development growth depends on SUNY.

"The power of SUNY to help develop and transform the upstate economy is already immense, but it can be even greater if we unite behind the right investments and strategies going forward," said Douglas, who also serves as co-chair of the North Country Regional Economic Development Council. "Imagine more than doubling the number of SUNY graduates, with heightened connections to our employers and their needs and to our economic development opportunities. That's a vision the North Country business community can fully embrace."

Affordable education 'one of the greatest challenges'

Paul Grasso, president of The Development Corporation, outlined how NYSUNY2020 is the "right program at the right time."

“How to educate more people, educate them better and educate them more affordably is one of the greatest challenges facing the SUNY system in fulfilling its role as New York’s economic engine," he said. "Economic development is about building prosperity — a high and rising standard of living. The new normal is jobs paying middle-class wages requiring some level of post-secondary education. By 2020, those jobs will account for 70 percent of all jobs in New York. Meeting that need requires a strong education system and an equally strong workforce development system. NYSUNY2020 is the right program at the right time to allow SUNY to continue creating educational and economic opportunities to sustain and grow New York’s economy.”

Cannot plan future on 'yesterday's dollars'

Chancellor Zimpher emphasized that successful planning for the future requires the kind of foresight that developed NYSUNY2020.

“We cannot plan the future of our State University on yesterday’s dollars, which is why extending this legislation until 2020 is essential," she said. "NYSUNY 2020 is perhaps the smartest, most impactful legislation to support SUNY in history. Governor Andrew Cuomo and state leaders showed excellent foresight when this bill was enacted, positioning our campuses to drive regional economic development for New York while protecting our students’ investment, taking tuition roulette off the table so that they are able to plan for the full cost of college without the possibility of unexpected tuition spikes."

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