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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The independent student publication of The University at Buffalo, since 1950

The Public Higher Education Empowerment & Innovation Act

With the state's finances at a crisis point, it is time for bold ideas that will not only get us through these difficult times, but return New York to greatness.

The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act is an idea of that magnitude.

This landmark legislation shields our students and our campuses from the worst effects of the fiscal crisis while maximizing our potential as a driver of economic recovery.

The legislation removes tuition from the state budget and political process, allowing SUNY to expand enrollment and increase access to excellent educational opportunities.

Historically, when tuition has increased to offset budget cuts and to maintain academic quality, the state has swept the increase into the treasury to close budget gaps elsewhere. Worse still, tuition has gone up only during times of fiscal crisis when students and parents can least afford it.

Under the Empowerment Act, every tuition dollar would stay on campus to support our students' education.

We are in the process of developing a detailed tuition policy that prevents the large sudden tuition spikes of the past; caps total year-to-year tuition increases, and protects access with expanded financial aid.

The Act also enables SUNY to engage in partnerships with the private sector, which means new revenue to support SUNY and the ability to create 2,000 faculty positions and a total of 10,000 jobs across the system -- along with 65,000 construction jobs for capital projects.

The principles of collective bargaining and union worker rights are specifically protected.

Finally, the legislation cuts the red tape that costs SUNY time and money and stifles economic activity.

Unfortunately, some critics continue to defend an indefensible status quo, providing no alternative solutions -- only criticisms. In contrast, we understand the need to be proactive and strategic about the future. If current projections are accurate, there will be even less money to go around next year. Business as usual will be nothing short of disastrous.

These reforms will not "give the state permission to cut SUNY." The steady erosion of support shows that the state long ago gave itself permission to cut SUNY. Budget cuts and tuition grabs have added up to $424 million over the past two years.

During this fiscal hurricane, we simply cannot afford to stake everything on the hope of budget restorations. To do so will lead to diminished access, erosion of academic quality and economic stagnation.

That is why we are leaving no stone unturned to find ways to sustain and grow a world-class system of public higher education. We have come to the table with an innovative, responsible plan, offering the State University as a partner with all who seek to create a better future for our communities.

The Empowerment Act also embodies SUNY's fundamental commitment to accountability and transparency, putting in place oversight procedures for every provision.

When I was hired by the board of trustees, I pledged to "press the reset button" on SUNY's way of doing business. I believe we have succeeded in that effort, with unprecedented participation by our campuses in the budget process, a groundbreaking strategic plan and a newly energized partnership with the City University of New York.

But for SUNY to reach its potential in creating new educational and economic opportunities, we need the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act.

The road of excuses, delays and fear has reached a dead end. It is time to set out on a new path that will shore up public higher education, create jobs and begin the process of rebuilding New York.

E-mail: student.life@suny.edu


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