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SUNY Potsdam president troubled over budget proposal

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POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller fears that efforts to reform SUNY’s state budget allocation may cost his campus millions of dollars.

Mr. Schwaller sounded a warning alarm at the SUNY Potsdam College Council’s meeting Friday morning that new, deep budget cuts may be coming.

“This is all so disheartening, but right now this is just a proposed model,” he said ahead of the release of a new draft budget allocation model.

The SUNY system receives funding from the state budget, which is then allocated among its 25 colleges using a system that credits schools for size of enrollment, amount of research and performance measures like graduation rates and retention.

“Right now, we have benefited from tweaks to the budget allocation,” said Mr. Schwaller. “With the recession, everyone recognized the budget allocation we currently have is a flawed mechanism.”

After enduring $1.4 billion in budget cuts over the past four years, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher is pushing the system to reconsider how it allocates funding.

So far, the proposed changes are to the detriment of comprehensive campuses like SUNY Potsdam, said Mr. Schwaller.

“It is very consistent from the campuses that can afford it least to those that need it most,” he said.

State support for state-operated campuses is currently at $780 million, $15 million of that would be diverted from comprehensive and technological campuses like SUNY Potsdam and SUNY Canton to large university centers at Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook, Mr. Schwaller said.

“When you look at a budget of $780 million, the fluctuation is small,” he said. “Unfortunately, the shift is clear and consistent — all technological colleges lose money, all comprehensive colleges lose money, the movement is to university centers.”

Mr. Schwaller said based on the new model, Potsdam will lose $2.72 million in state funding, including a $500,000 subsidy to help pay and retain staff members on small campuses, and another $500,000 subsidy to support its arts programs. The cuts represent a 7 percent decline from the $38.82 million allotment the school received for the 2012-13 school year and would come on the heels of several years of cuts.

“When I retire in a few years, we will receive half as much money from the state as when I started,” said Mr. Schwaller.

Mr. Schwaller said SUNY Potsdam would lose out because SUNY Central is putting more emphasis on graduate programs and research.

“We have research programs on campus, but they are the wrong kind of research,” he said, explaining that research that brings in grants from federal agencies is rewarded by the proposed model. “Comprehensive colleges don’t effectively compete for that money. We would lose $250,000 because we do not have a large amount of federally funded research.”

SUNY Potsdam’s declining graduate enrollment would cost the school, said Mr. Schwaller, who said funding could be reduced by as much as $1.6 million if the changes are enacted. The nature of the school’s master’s degree programs, most of which are education based, also would put a dent in its allocation.

“Enrollment subsidies are based on the cost of the program,” he said. Doctoral-granting institutions and research universities would fare better under the system.

“There is talk that this is a not-too-veiled attack on the technical and comprehensive sector to force them to close, change or merge,” said Mr. Schwaller. “There are a few of us who suffer devastating cuts. ... For us to lose an additional $3 million is devastating.”

SUNY would also cap enrollment growth in some programs while encouraging it in others, a change that could benefit schools like SUNY Canton that have seen rapid growth over recent years, but would hurt liberal arts campuses like SUNY Potsdam.

“We would only be able to grow in areas that are approved,” said Mr. Schwaller.

Mr. Schwaller emphasized his remarks were based on a proposed reallocation that could go through several changes before enacted.

In a parallel effort to shift costs from administration expenses to instructional uses, the chancellor’s office is also asking SUNY Canton and SUNY Potsdam to continue exploring shared services.

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