The ins and outs of NY SUNY2020
By Madeline St. Amour
Associate News Editor
April 28, 2015
The University at Albany received $35 million over a period of five years to enact a strategic plan to improve the school. UAlbany has reported on what the NYSUNY 2020 grants have allowed them to accomplish so far.
The NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program is a partnership established in 2011 between the State University of New York and the Office of the Governor. SUNY schools propose projects that would be beneficial to the university, and the Office decides if they should receive grants, and if so, for how much.
Part of the program is the rational tuition plan, which gives the SUNY Board of Trustees the ability to vote on whether or not to increase tuition by $300 at all SUNY schools each year without seeking the approval of the Legislature. The Board has voted to increase tuition for all five years the plan has been in place.
James Van Voorst, vice president for Finance and Administration at UAlbany, said the first thing he looks for in the budget is approval for the tuition appropriation, meaning that UAlbany is allowed to spend the extra money it earned from tuition increases.
He said this plan helps SUNY schools plan their budgets ahead of time without the need for large tuition hikes, and allows parents and students to plan ahead.
“It lets us say, ‘Let’s draw a line and say that’s where we’re going to start,’” he said. “I’d use ‘predictable’ rather than ‘rational.’”
When legislators began cutting SUNY funding from the state budget around 2007, times became more difficult, Van Voorst said. The solution to this problem was the NYSUNY 2020 plan.
From 2007 to 2010, tuition increased by $620, $4,350 to $4,970, according to information from UAlbany’s Common Data Set. From 2010 until 2013, it increased by $600, $4,970 to $5,570.
Compared to other state school systems, though, SUNY is easier on student’s wallets. The state college systems of Texas, California, Ohio, Virginia, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Pennsylvania all charge higher tuition and fees than SUNY. Van Voorst said, from a “CFO’s” perspective, he would prefer to be on the other end of the spectrum and have more money for campus expenditures.
The second part of the budget is performance-based funding, which applies SUNY-wide and is different for each campus.
This lets SUNY schools prove that, “with a little bit of investment, I can do better,” Van Voorst said.
There are some who argue against performance-based funding. When the ASP reported on SUNY’s announcement of the new SUNY Excels program, which uses performance-based funding to increase graduation rates, Fred Kowal, president of the SUNY UUP, expressed his doubt.
“Research shows the goals of graduating more students, improving student success, and getting them into the workforce are not achieved by these performance-based funding mechanisms,” he said.
Van Voorst accepted this critique, but said there are ways to avoid it.
“The key is going to be that it doesn’t become a numbers game,” he said. “That’s one of the things we’d have to watch.”
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher is hoping that many of improvements gained through performance-based funding and measurement are scalable and could be used to all campuses, Sheila Seery, associate vice president of government relations in the Office of the President, said.
So far, UAlbany has spent money from NYSUNY 2020 on campus construction, to hire teachers, give out more student aid, and to increase university research.
UAlbany has hired 160 full-time faculty members with the goal of improving the student-to-faculty ratio. The current ratio is 18.2 teachers for every student, according to UAlbany’s Common Data Set, down by about 1.62 percent from the 18.5-to-1 of fall 2011.
A portion of the money will also go toward supporting faculty with supplies, money for travel, or assistants. This will also be available to adjunct and part-time faculty, Van Voorst said.
UAlbany has also put 17 percent of the money from tuition increases toward Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) aid, scholarships, and stipends for student research. So far, 71 percent of the tuition revenue has gone towards the faculty and student aid lines, according to Van Voorst.
“I think we’re holding up our commitment,” he said.
UAlbany has also created or expanded 29 programs, added 153 more course sections, increased the number of companies recruiting on campus by 24 percent, and aims to improve the graduation rate. According to the Common Data Set, the six-year graduation rate for the 2008 class was 66 percent; for the 2007 class, it was 66.4 percent; and for the 2006 class, it was 62.6 percent.
The increase in grant and tuition revenue has also given UAlbany administration the ability to plan for the future more actively, rather than just “reacting.” Administration does not have to make “mid-year adjustments” as much anymore, Van Voorst said.
“We were having conversations two years ago about next year,” he said, because administrators knew that the tuition plan was in place if state aid did not come through.
Another benefit, according to Van Voorst, is that 83 percent of graduates are working in New York State after college.
The final year
“Part of this compact is we need to show how we use that money,” Van Voorst said.
All SUNY schools will present their results when the NYSUNY 2020 legislation comes to an end after the 2015-16 academic year. The state will have to decide whether or not to renew the plan and offer more funding.
“How efficiently and how effectively do the schools use those dollars? That’s what it comes down to,” Van Voorst said.
He said that UAlbany is trying to hold its standards high with the money it received. He is uneasy about what the future would hold if NYSUNY 2020 is not extended.