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SUNY eyeing $10M in future cuts

Lower enrollment has fueled a deficit at the State University of New York at Fredonia.

SUNY Fredonia President Stephen Kolison promised $10 million in unspecified cuts at the university over the next five years, in an Aug. 24 letter to the faculty and staff.

“Though we have taken substantial steps to reduce expenditures in the last three years, as I presented to you in my August 16, 2023, State of the University Address, a steeper path lies ahead,” Kolison wrote. “Consequently, I will propose a plan to decrease our annual expenses by $10 million over the next five years, underpinning our commitment to fiscal responsibility. Our goal is to make this endeavor a collaborative one, involving critical inputs from stakeholders and our SUNY partners.”

His opening paragraph noted that “like many universities nationwide, we confront financial challenges spurred by declining enrollment and increasing costs.”

The university’s steady enrollment decline has been a continuing source of grave concern for its officials. A decade ago, SUNY Fredonia had more than 5,000 students. According to the “Fast Facts” feature on its website, the university now has 3,524 students, with 3,217 undergraduates. Information about the Fall 2023 class was not available, at this writing, on the website’s admissions data page.

Kolison wrote that when he became SUNY Fredonia’s president in 2020, “I was acutely aware of the need for recalibration. I am deeply committed to our mission that champions a student body in which over 40% of our students come from financially constrained backgrounds and many are the first in their families to attend college.

“In 2023 and beyond, our role in shaping futures and our responsibility to develop ‘skilled, connected, creative, and responsible global citizens and professionals’ is paramount,” he added.

Last year, the university was facing a $17 million deficit — and it is far from alone. SUNY Buffalo State’s budget deficit was $16 million.

Kolison said to his faculty and staff: “As I have encouraged, your input and collaboration are essential during these times. Please stay informed and share your concerns and innovative solutions. We have already acted on numerous suggestions, with more changes underway.”

He suggested job cuts will be ahead. “It is important to address a challenging reality: some cost-saving measures may inevitably impact personnel. Above all, we aim to ensure the least disruption possible.”

Kolison concluded that “once our plan is refined, it will be made accessible to the entire campus. Together, we will surmount these challenges.”

On the same day Kolison’s memo came out, staff at the university also learned of a new four-year contract with New York state for the United University Professions, the union that represents more than 37,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University of New York. “This contract contains historic gains for our members and builds on advances made in our last contract,” said UUP President Frederick E. Kowal. “It rewards our members at SUNY’s public teaching hospitals–who were on the front lines of the pandemic–raises minimum salaries for our lowest-paid members and provides 12 weeks of parental leave with pay.

Highlights of the contract included: across-the-board raises, with a 2% raise for 2022 and 3% raises for 2023, 2024 and 2025; retention awards that bring on-base salary increases based on length of service to full-time employees who work seven years, and then 12 years; living wage increases which raise minimum salaries for UUP’s lowest-paid academic ranks and professional grades; and no increases in basic health insurance costs, including employee premium shares, co-payments, annual deductibles or co-insurance maximums..

“I’d like to thank Gov. Hochul for her willingness to collaborate with us to achieve a fair and equitable contract that our members ratified in large numbers,” Kowal said.

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