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University hopeful for increase in state aid, budget cuts still likely

By Meghan Brink | February 2, 2021

While the University may see a less-than-expected reduction in state funding for the 2021-2022 budget, it is still unclear how the budget may impact the $59 million budget deficit in the new fiscal year.

In an interview with the Albany Student Press last week, Provost Carol Kim said the New York State Executive Budget released on Jan. 21 included projections that state funding could be reduced by around 5% instead of the anticipated 25%. The final number, however, will not be known until April 1.

Without a final estimate for state aid, plans to address the university's $59 million budget deficit will move forward, including $38 million in permanent budget reductions for the upcoming fiscal year that includes a 15% cut across Academic Affairs, said Kim.

The pandemic, which led to an abrupt closure of the university in March 2020 followed by remote learning, has exacerbated prior year deficits as well as declines in out-of-state and international student enrollment due to COVID-19 travel regulations. The pandemic has also reduced revenue collected from fees and housing and increased costs related to health and safety, said Kim.

The University expects to receive $8.7 million less than planned in tuition revenue this year, according to Jordan Carleo-Evangelist, the university's director of media and community relations.

According to a campus budget update released in Sept. 2020, the university has only seen small declines in in-state and transfer enrollments, however, among new freshman and transfer students, there has been a 13% drop in out-of-state enrollment and a 47% decrease in international enrollment from the figures originally anticipated by the university in the budget for 2020-2021.

"It's not just the number of students … it's the mix of students," said Kim. "One international student is equal to three in-state students."

Out-of-state and international students represent a valuable demographic for tuition revenues because they pay higher tuition than students who live in-state, and these pandemic-induced declines have caused the "demographic cliff."

Additionally, with more students remaining home for the semester, the university suffered a $29.2 million loss in housing revenue.

To compensate for the loss in revenue, the 15% cut that the administration wants to make to Academic Affairs will be instituted by a series of metrics that rank each college based on budget metrics that will consider enrollment, research, engagement with the public, diversity, and inclusion, and revenue generation.

"Each of the schools will get a number and they can be ranked," said Kim. "We are going to spread our cuts based on that rank so that it equals our total cut for academic affairs."

The budget metrics system has faced opposition from the United University Professions union, which has criticized the approach as focusing too much on efficiency and not enough on ways to minimize the human toll, particularly during a national health crisis.

UUP highlighted these flaws in a statement released in response to the budget metrics on January 8, demanding that these metrics be renegotiated in a way that minimizes cuts to employees, programs, and departments due to the long-term implications these cuts could have on the university.

"We are worried about how it is going to radically reshape the university," said Stasi.

According to Stasi, budget cuts could result in an estimated nonrenewal of 50 adjunct professors, which could mean fewer course options and larger classes for students and the possible removal of whole departments.

With optimism for an increase in state aid and possible promise of federal assistance in the stimulus bill, Stasi said that budget cuts of this magnitude are not necessary.

"From our perspective, if the state is saying you don't have to make those cuts, then our university administration is choosing to make those cuts," said Stasi.

Stasi fears the result of these budget cuts will be similar to cuts made in 2010, when massive cuts to the Humanities department resulted in the elimination of French, Russian, Italian, classics, and theater programs. The metric formation in budget cuts for 2021-2022 will likely burden similar departments within humanities and fails to highlight long-term issues within these departments that cause them to fair badly on the metrics scale, said Stasi.

"The metrics are heavily weighted to the idea of efficiency in terms of cost and benefits … which is the sciences more than liberal arts and humanities," said Stasi. "The metrics will look at us and say well you don't have a diverse faculty, but the truth is we have been screaming about not having a diverse faculty for years."

To diminish the human toll, Stasi said that UUP is advocating that instead of addressing the long-term structural deficit that will result in large cuts now, the university should focus on getting through the pandemic.

"It doesn't make sense to address a long-term problem in the middle of a pandemic," said Stasi. "They need to put these long-term questions on hold until we get through this."

In the coming weeks, members from the Provost's Office will be drafting a budget implementation plan that will state how budget reductions will be instituted in Academic Affairs based on the metrics, according to Carleo-Evangelist. This plan is expected to be shared with the full campus by March.


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