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Testimony

on the
State University of New York’s role in student retention,
academic achievement and degree completion

Presented to the
Assembly Standing Committee on Higher Education

By

Phillip H. Smith, Ph.D.
President

December 14, 2010

 

Chairperson Glick and distinguished members and staff of the Assembly Standing Committee on Higher Education, thank you for the opportunity to comment on the role that New York colleges play in student retention and degree completion.

I am Phillip H. Smith, President of United University Professions (UUP). We represent 35,000 academic and professional faculty at the State University’s state-operated campuses, and at its teaching hospitals and health science centers. Our members serve hundreds of thousands of students and patients in every region of the State.

Viewed from our perspective, improving student retention and graduation rates is not only a growing expectation, but an imperative.

There is a general consensus that students who learn are students who stay. There must be adequate personal interaction between teacher and pupil.

Higher education, as a labor intensive service, requires faculty student ratios that provide sufficient contact hours and counseling.

There must be enough full-time faculty to ensure that students are matched with the appropriate academic counselors and curriculum.

There must be enough full-time faculty to ensure continuity of instruction and the programming of courses. Students must have the opportunity to talk to an instructor whenever problems arise.

Unfortunately, the events of the past two years have fully negated the University’s ability to provide those critical services. Cutbacks have forced campuses to severely compromise quality – especially with respect to the sufficiency of full-time faculty.

The severity of the State’s ongoing fiscal crisis is not disputable, nor is the impact this prolonged period of fiscal retrenchment has had on the State University’s operating budget.

In just two years, Governor Paterson has cut State funding for the University’s state-operated campuses time and time again.

Six times these operating budgets have been cut. Over $585 million in State support has been removed. That’s more than a 30% reduction in the operating budgets of SUNY’s campuses.

More than half of the cuts were implemented administratively through mid-year reductions, and without the benefit of your involvement or public discussion of the inherently dangerous consequences reductions of that magnitude would produce.

In fact, State support for the University’s state-operated campuses is currently less than the level of State support 20 years ago.

These reductions exceed the total State funding that was available to the four University centers in 2007-2008.

The cuts are more than twice the State funding available to the 13 comprehensive colleges at that time.

That $585 million reduction is greater than the total of the 2007-08 operating budgets (combined state support and tuition) of Albany, Binghamton, Brockport, Cortland, Purchase, Cobleskill, Canton, Oneonta, Delhi and Maritime.

It is unlikely that any major public university in this Nation has lost so much of its operating resources – particularly in such a short period of time.

SUNY’s enrollment has increased by 26,000 students since the mid-1990’s while, at the same time, its full-time faculty has been reduced by over 1,300 positions. SUNY would have needed an additional 1,400 full-time instructors just to meet that enrollment growth.

The harm this has produced is alarming. For example, five humanities programs at Albany have been deactivated. Three majors have been closed at Geneseo. Stony Brook’s Southampton’s campus has been virtually closed. These are but three of the many examples of impacts that are routinely occurring throughout the State University system.

Every day, we hear of SUNY students contending with swelling class sizes and shrinking class offerings, and many of these students believe they will now be unable to graduate in four years.

We are certainly aware of the State’s financial circumstances, and we know that the State can not, in the near term, restore SUNY to previous funding levels.

However, if we are to stem the tide of reduced retention and graduation rates, we must find ways to protect the State University’s operating budget from any further reductions. Our campuses have been presented with operational challenges that they can not possibly meet.

New York has come very close to fully negating 60 years of commitment to institutional growth and development. We must not let that happen.

Chairperson Glick and members of this committee, on behalf of our hard working members, I wish to thank you for listening to our concerns and for the great support and leadership you have constantly provided to those who have the State University’s best interest at heart.


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