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United University Professions kicks off statewide campaign for more SUNY system funding

 Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan calls for more SUNY funding
Ashley Hupfl
/
WAMC
Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan calls for more SUNY funding

The nation’s largest higher education union is kicking off a campaign calling for more funding for the State University of New York system, including three Capital Region campuses facing projected multi-million dollar deficits.

Capital Region local officials joined United University Professions President Fred Kowal at the University at Albany Friday to announce the new push, citing chronic underfunding of the system. Kowal said it was the first of several events planned around the state. The union will also be traveling to Plattsburgh, Buffalo, Syracuse and the Hudson Valley.

“Just the spread of those stops and the diversity of those campuses points out how important SUNY is as an institution to the state of New York and its future. Last year, we had some significant legislative wins thanks to members in the Legislature like (Assemblywoman) Pat Fahy, who is here with us today. But, last year was only a starting point. University at Albany has a projected budget deficit of $15 million for (2022-2023). Cobleskill College, my home campus, has a $4 million deficit and Empire State College has a projected $6.9 million deficit.”

Kowal, also a WAMC commentator, said chronic underfunding of the SUNY system has forced schools to raise tuition and fees to address budget shortfalls. According to the SUNY website, in-state tuition for the last academic year was about $7,000. Out-of-state tuition is about $17,000. That does not include other expenses, like housing and other mandatory fees.

“We cannot fix this problem by limiting class options, overcrowdings classrooms, or raising tuition and fees, those days must end. This is a public university system, not a private system with some funding from the public sector. It's got to be public once again,” he said.

SUNY’s Board of Trustees’ 2023 executive budget recommends $12.5 billion for SUNY in next year’s state budget, an overall increase of $656 million.

Fahy credits investments in SUNY Poly, which has campuses in Albany and Utica, for delivering highly skilled workers and helping lead to semiconductor maker Micron’s announcement last week that it will invest up to $100 billion over 20 years to build a chip factory in Clay, north of Syracuse.

“Those investments have a ripple effect and we wouldn't get them if it weren't for the recognition that we have talent here," Kowal said. "And we're all hearing about labor shortages, especially this year, which has become quite extreme, especially in a number of industries. But, we are still known for growing talent for having talent and it is because of these investments.”

Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan touted UAlbany’s local economic boost. The Democrat said SUNY accounts for nearly 10,000 jobs and supports more than 21,000 indirect jobs. SUNY’s impact on the Capital Region economy was $3.4 billion in 2018, according to an economic impact study by the Rockefeller Institute of Government.

She added she might not be mayor today if not for public universities.

“I lived in Ohio when I was in high school and it was a public university that was attainable for me as someone who had to work to pay my own tuition. That was something that was achievable for me. If that public university system had not been there, I might not be standing here today.”

Student Association Vice President Jalen Miller said with additional funding, UAlbany would be able to better provide critical services, like mental health care.

“As students balance their course load, family life, work and the financial burdens of being a student, they should have more healthcare professionals there to assist them. We need more resources to staff our SUNY campuses, in all departments. Students should not have to worry about long wait lines to speak to financial aid about tuition when we are already worried about the cost of higher education in the first place.”

A SUNY spokesperson did not comment directly on UUP’s funding push, but said in a statement to WAMC that the most recently enacted state budget included the most significant investment in higher education in a generation, which “supports the governor’s vision to secure SUNY’s place as a global leader in higher education.”

A spokesperson for Democratic Governor Kathy Hochul did not respond to a request for comment.
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Ashley Hupfl