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NYSNYS NEWS: SUNY leaders urge $50 million Investment Fund be part of Cuomo Budget2015.
NYSNYS NEWS: SUNY leaders urge $50 million Investment Fund be part of Cuomo Budget2015.

By Kyle Hughes

ALBANY, N.Y. (March 9) SUNY leaders gathered on the Albany campus Monday to ask the Legislature to kick in another $32 million for an Investment Fund for programs aimed at raising the percentage of college graduates in New York by 2020.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed $18 million for the SUNY Investment Fund, but SUNY Albany President Robert J. Jones said Monday there is a proven need for $50 million in funding. Cuomo and the Legislature are in the process of negotiating a new 2015-16 state budget, with an anticipated surplus of more than $8 billion on the table.

"These investments are absolutely critical for the collective impact that was mentioned on these institutions continue to need to have on our students," Jones said.

"We're not asking them to invest in some hypothetical strategy that is not proven," Jones said. "Data on it will show you that it works We know that these things work and we solicit their continued support for the benefit of the students of the SUNY system and every citizen of the state of New York."

The event with leaders from SUNY Adirondack, Hudson Valley, Schenectady and Fulton-Montgomery community colleges and Empire State College in Saratoga Springs is one of number of events being held in various regions of the state to build support for more state funding. They also want the Legislature to continue the SUNY2020 program, which was adopted in 2011 to raise tuition by $300 annually for five years and out of state tuition at the major university centers by 10 percent each year. The program expires in 2016.

SUNY HVCC President Andrew Matonak said that state support for the system has fallen off in recent years as money for higher education was diverted to other spending purposes. He said community colleges were established in New York on a funding model of one-third state money, one-third local money, and one-third student tuition payments.

Now, the "state portion of our budget is 22 percent and as many of our students know they have had to pick up a greater portion of their educational cost. About 48 percent of our budget comes from our students."

Tuition increases and more revenue for the SUNY system has helped hire faculty and staff and boost student retention and graduation rates. SUNY Empire State provost Alfred Ntoko said the college has been able to hire 22 new faculty members as a result of increased tuition revenue.

The push comes as university officials predict that 67 percent of jobs will require a career certificate or college degree by 2020. Now, only 45 percent of working age New Yorkers have a college degree.

SUNY says for every 100 9th grade students, only 73 will graduate high school and of those 51 will go directly to college. But only 37 will return for a second year, with 23 completing a degree on time.

Advocates say improving those numbers is possible with more spending on Education Opportunity Programs, improved remedial math programs, "Finish in Four" agreements between colleges and stuents, and help with college advisement in high school. More internsnips and "applied learning experience" is also necessary.

At SUNY Albany, one of the flagship campuses of the system, money provided through the SUNY2020 initiative in recent years has improved undergraduate graduation rates by 4 percent, hired 187 full-time faculty members in "cutting edge fields," and helped to create 29 new or expanded academic programs.

At the same time, more student aid and the so-called "rational tuition plan" that replaced ad hoc tuition increases has help put students on a more solid financial foot. The average debt of SUNY students who borrow for college is $2,671 below the national average for public and nonprofit colleges.