Area can help grow university

A key issue in our state right now, as the final stages of the budget process are underway, is the extent to which New York is willing to invest in this generation of college and university students. This investment affects the economic vitality and quality of life across New York, but it has direct implications for our own community, where the State University of New York at Fredonia and Jamestown Community College provide important access to affordable education.

State support for The State University of New York at Fredonia has dwindled to just 11.9 percent of its current $100 million operating budget. That’s just one example from among the 64 SUNY campuses, as leaders across New York are reaching out to state legislators, encouraging them to increase state funding.

SUNY campuses are asking elected officials to keep allocations on pace with negotiated union contracts needed to keep talented, dedicated faculty and staff on our campuses. This allocation is critical in keeping the costs from shifting to students and their families, something that has been occurring not because spending is out of control but because state support has been so drastically reduced.

Other requests that directly affect Fredonia are the efforts to restore a capital plan to maintain aging facilities and to renovate and build in support of strategic initiatives. The proposed predictable tuition policy would allow students, families, and campuses to budget for modest tuition increases over the next few years, instead of subjecting tuition rates to the decisions of each year’s political processes.

Another key component of SUNY’s budget request is an Investment Fund designed to enable SUNY to graduate 150,000 students annually by 2020 through the system-wide scale up of evidence-based programs known to support student success – including four-year degree promises across the system modeled after the pioneering “Fredonia in Four” program. In addition, applied learning, Educational Opportunity Programs (EOP/EDP), and expanded advisement services will also be enhanced. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher outlined this objective in her recent State of the University address.

In partnership with Alfred State College and SUNY Potsdam, Fredonia also hopes for support for a pilot program in differential out-of-state tuition. This pilot would allow these “border campuses” to offer a 1.5 percent in-state tuition rate to out-of-state students within 300 miles of the campuses. On these campuses which have capacity, this differential rate is expected to bring more students who live and spend here and whose families visit the region – without negatively impacting New York’s taxpayers or denying qualified state residents the opportunity for admission.

SUNY continues to be a huge economic driver for the state, serving 3 million New Yorkers every year – including students, faculty, staff, and hundreds of communities. It is an economic powerhouse that generates $21 billion annually for New York. Fredonia accounts for more than $330 million of that figure, including $157 million right here in Northern Chautauqua County, according to a recent third-party study which assessed the campus’ economic impact.

To help lead the effort, SUNY has launched a new website, www.suny.edu/invest, which it has supplemented with social media efforts such as the Twitter hashtag, #InvestInSUNY. I hope community members join us in encouraging state lawmakers to increase their investment in SUNY students. When we think about the issues that engage us in our communities and around the world, we need people who have the knowledge, skills, and commitment to solving problems that affect us all.

Virginia S. Horvath, Ph.D., is president of the State University of New York at Fredonia.