New York State governor Kathy Hochul has released her budget proposal for the 2024 fiscal year, featuring almost $7.5 billion in higher ed spending—a 13% increase from this year’s spending and a 22% increase from the 2022 budget proposed by her predecessor, Andrew Cuomo.
The funding was hailed by the chancellors of the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY), as well as Dr. Tom Harnisch, vice president of government relations at the State Higher Education Executive Officers Association.
“The governor has proposed some bold new investments in higher education and a comprehensive approach that will pay dividends for years to come,” he said. “It’s clear that she sees SUNY and CUNY as state assets that will help grow New York’s economy. She gets it.”
Harnisch thought that the funding proposal was especially good in light of national trends.
“In other states, higher education has gotten minimal new investments amid robust state surpluses, with lawmakers instead opting for deep tax cuts that could severely constrain higher education in the years ahead,” he said.
However, the proposal has also drawn criticism from those who say that the funding is insufficient to make up for years of stagnation under Cuomo and from some who work in New York’s public colleges.
“[It] dampens our ability to best support students who are looking to come back to school,” said Kevin Adams, director of community standards and student conduct and higher education officer delegate to the Professional Staff Congress at Medgar Evers College, a CUNY school. “We’ve had a loss of employees across the university and hiring freezes. In order to build back up enrollment, you need to better support the infrastructure.”
Harnisch argues that to fully fix the issue will take time.
“The disinvestment didn’t happen all in one year, and the reinvestment unfortunately won’t be able to be all done in one year,” he said.
Dr. Ann L. Marcus, professor of higher education and director of the Steinhardt Institute of Higher Education Policy at New York University, agreed.
“It sounds like [Hochul’s] trying to make up for some serious cuts over time,” she said. “It’s not enough to make up for it, but it would be at least a step in the right direction.”
The proposal would also raise tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools, indexed to the Higher Education Price Index or 3%--whichever is less. Some SUNY colleges could also increase tuition 6% more a year for the next five years on in-state students up to a cap of 30%. The changes are projected to raise almost $100 million for SUNY and roughly $30 million for CUNY over the 2024 school year.
Adams was opposed to the tuition increases.
“I think [it] will be a deterrent for a number of students,” he said.
“I think people can’t afford it,” she said. “People are really feeling stretched right now in terms of inflation, the economy, [and] the financial return on higher education.”
But Harnisch argued that those same economic pressures applied to the state may have made the increases necessary.
“New York has been a leader in holding down tuition. However, years of high inflation, increased capital costs, and enrollment declines likely contributed to the decision to propose tuition increases,” he said.
$1.2 billion is proposed for capital funding. This includes $200 million for digital and IT infrastructure as well as $200 million for Stony Brook University and the University of Buffalo to renovate or build new research facilities and laboratories.
“Some of those things are clearly focused on investing in reputational items,” said Marcus. “Which is all to the good, but it doesn’t really speak to the operating needs of colleges.”
Adams felt that the projects that had been chosen for funding were not necessarily the most important ones.
“There’s infrastructure needs that have been neglected over decades,” he said. “This one-time support doesn’t properly address those needs.”
Funding for community colleges will match the fiscal year 2022 level at $689 million despite drops in enrollment. This is a decrease of $8 million, however, from the 2023 outlay, which the governor’s office said was higher due to non-recurring funding for legislative adds.
Dr. Rebecca Natow, an assistant professor of education and leadership policy at Hofstra University, was pleased.
"I am glad to see the governor has not proposed cutting funding to community colleges even though enrollment has declined in that sector. Cutting funding by an amount that would have reflected enrollment declines could have financially devastated some community colleges," she said by email. "Cutting funding might have started a vicious cycle in that the colleges would have had to become more reliant on tuition and fees, and any price increases in those areas would have lowered financial access to community college for many potential students, thereby harming enrollments even further"
Marcus, however, argued that funding should have been increased, a call that was echoed by Daliz Perez-Cabezas, senior advisor to the vice president for the division of continuing education and workforce development at Hostos Community College, a CUNY school.
“More than ever, we need the support to be able to engage students so that they can come back,” she said. “[It] helps brings students back if they know we can give them any kind of additional resources to get them through.”
The proposal also would establish a state matching fund for endowment contributions providing $1 for every $2 of private donations, up to $500 million, which Marcus said would have a minimal effect.
“That’s going to be minor because most of those places don’t raise a lot of money,” she said. “Or they do, but it’s not endowment money.”
Ultimately, the proposal will have to survive the legislative process, as lawmakers bargain with the governor before an April 1st budget deadline. Marcus thought that the package’s chances were strong.
“I don’t think it’s an inflammatory proposal,” she said. “I think it has a good chance of going through like this.”
Jon Edelman can be reached at [email protected].