SUNY funding system urged

The State University system needs a public-private collaboration, including regular tuition increase
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The State University system needs a public-private collaboration, including regular tuition increases, to recover from decades of funding shortfalls, according to Lloyd Constantine, who was higher education adviser to ex-Gov. Eliot Spitzer.

A top priority should be to bring endowment reserves for the 64-college State University of New York closer to levels in other high-population states, Constantine said Tuesday at SUNY Cobleskill’s semiannual breakfast forum.

“The entire SUNY endowment is [about] $1 billion. … That’s about $2,000 per student,” Constantine said.

SUNY colleges had a total of 427,398 students in January, according to SUNY data.

California’s state college system has an endowment at a $20,000-per-student level, Constantine said.

Such funds, often coming from donations by former students, typically build reserves for scholarships and programs.

“A rational, predictable system of modest annual tuition increases” is also necessary to avoid having some students lose “a negative lottery” when drastic tuition hikes are needed to catch up, Constantine said.

In his role as Spitzer’s special adviser in the creation of the former governor’s Commission on Higher Education, Constantine said he visited all 64 SUNY campuses to review their needs.

As a close associate of Spitzer, a former law partner with him, and former assistant attorney general, Constantine “resigned eight minutes after [Spitzer] did,” he said.

Although currently unemployed, Constantine, 59, said he remains committed to pushing for improvements to higher education.

Despite what he called a “very rough year” for state budget makers, Constantine said it appears that a goal to bring the SUNY system endowment to $4 billion from public and private funds “survived the budget process.”

Among other priority recommendations expected in the Higher Education Commission report, according to Constantine, are a unified system of transferring college credits between schools, increases full-time faculty, more connections between high school and college studies and alliances between business and science groups,

With funding new construction and renovation projects a top priority of the commission’s report, Constantine praised legislators for keeping many SUNY priorities in the current state budget.

“Every campus got its number one priority funded,” he said.

SUNY Cobleskill did even better, receiving nearly $49 million for a new agricultural science building and an environmental, science and technology center, plus $7 million for critical maintenance projects, according to Provost Anne Myers.

Myers has been in charge of the local college for much of the last two years, while SUNY officials sought a new president after Thomas Haas took a Michigan position in August 2006.

With incoming president Donald P. Zingale expected to take the reins May 1, Myers was brought to tears after state Sen. James L. Seward brought the crowd of about 125 community leaders and faculty to their feet in praise of Myers’ stewardship.

“Very often things sort of languish [during interim administrations],” Seward, R-Milford, said. “We did not tread water during this important time.”

Myers, who was apparently taken by surprise by Seward’s remarks and the standing ovation, tipped her hat to the local community.

“What’s special about living in a place like this is you really get to know people,” Myers said.

Categories: Schenectady County

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