Helping SUNY’s Flagships

Governor Andrew Cuomo proposes giving the four SUNY research universities (Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook) $140 million in economic development funds and – perhaps, if the legislature agrees – permission to levy higher tuition.  The governor is right in viewing SUNY campuses, and especially its most senior ones, as economic engines; indeed, outside of Manhattan, they are about the only economic engines New York State has, adding billions of dollars to the state gross product.  He is also right in supporting higher tuition, because with state tax levy support having been cut by hundreds of millions of dollars over the last three years, all SUNY campuses will wither unless they can offset this loss with increased tuition revenue.  Where I part company with the governor is in the requirement that this potential windfall for the SUNY “flagships” be conditioned on their submitting for bureaucratic review yet another set of academic and economic development blueprints.  The way that major American universities contribute so much to the economy – regionally and nationally – is never through the kinds of high-sounding but vaporous plans they periodically churn out, but through their peer vetted, competitively funded research.  My recommendation: forget about generating more plans; allow all SUNY campuses to raise tuition in small annual increments – and keep all of the resulting revenue – and tie the level of any supplemental “economic development” aid to each campus’s volume of externally awarded research grants. 

Peter Salins

Peter Salins is University Professor of Political Science at Stony Brook University and director of its graduate program in public policy.

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