University at Albany

Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act

Message from President George M. Philip

February 1, 2010

The "Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act" is the most significant New York public higher education reform package in a generation. In providing the University at Albany and the State University of New York with the autonomies and flexibilities afforded to most institutions of higher learning across the country, this landmark reform legislation will help enable SUNY and campuses like ours to take control of our future, generate new revenue, hire new faculty and researchers, foster new research and discovery and serve as engines for future economic growth and job creation. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, who is leading advocacy efforts for the legislation, highlights its importance in this interview.

In June 2008, the New York State Commission on Higher Education highlighted in its final report what the State University had already known to be true for decades:  New York State public higher education is chronically underfunded and overregulated. This is particularly true at the University at Albany which has realized severe decreases in State assistance over the past 20 years.  Since FY 1989-90, State support to our campus has decreased from 43% of our “all funds budget” to just under 16% today. 

During the same time period, the rate of tuition dramatically increased six (6) times from $1,350 to $4,970 per year – a 268% increase.  After accounting for State aid cuts, it is important to underscore that not a single dollar of the additional tuition increases over the past two decades has gone to benefit SUNY students and their families.  Rather than these tuition dollars being invested in public higher education, the State of New York used these tuition increases to address State budget deficits resulting from a fiscal crisis and/or a downturn in the economy.

Unfortunately, there appears to be no end in sight for the way the State of New York treats public higher education.  Since FY 2008-09, UAlbany has suffered approximately $21.5 million in State aid cuts, and unfortunately, the future outlook for the State University remains bleak.  The FY 2010-11 Executive Budget proposes further State cuts to SUNY, and the billions of dollars in federal stimulus monies currently supporting the State budget is scheduled for elimination beginning in FY 2011-12. 

In order to ensure that the University at Albany continues to offer academic excellence, coupled with affordability and accessibility, a new paradigm for New York public higher education is vitally necessary.

To this end, the State University and the City University of New York have partnered to advance the “Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act” – a "no cost, high impact' reform package designed to put New York public higher education on an even playing field with peer institutions across the nation.

This pioneering legislation would provide the University at Albany and the State University with tuition flexibility while ensuring access and affordability – both hallmarks of SUNY – by holding harmless our traditional TAP population.  In so doing, the University at Albany would – for the first time – be able to invest new tuition dollars into our academic programs for the benefit of our students.  In addition, the reform package would provide procurement flexibility, land-use/land-lease authority, new construction delivery methodologies, and public-private partnership authorization which will offer an array of long overdue entrepreneurial opportunities and efficiencies for the University at Albany and other SUNY campuses.

In summary, the "Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act" is an historic opportunity to unshackle and transform the University at Albany and all of public higher education in New York State, and in so doing, further accelerate the growth of the knowledge-based, innovation economy throughout the Capital Region and State of New York.

To learn more about this landmark reform legislation, I invite you to visit this website or email any questions and comments to