Cuomo gives well deserved attention to higher education - The Buffalo News
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Cuomo gives well deserved attention to higher education

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo may be on to something with his plan aimed at improving higher education and slowing the brain drain out of the state.

The governor’s executive budget proposal for 2014-15 provides the State University of New York with $95 million in additional spending authority and the City University of New York with $61 million additional funds.

This is in line with the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program of 2011. Cuomo’s Challenge Grant Program instituted a “rational and predictable” tuition policy. It allowed for a tuition increase of no more than $300 per year. The state guaranteed operating support to accommodate the schools’ cost increases.

Back in 2011, when lawmakers passed and the governor signed the Challenge Grant Program, it allowed the University at Buffalo to move ahead on its plans to build a new medical school downtown within a few years. In fact, the steel girders are in place and the structure is taking shape.

On a larger scale involving SUNY’s 64-campus system, Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher complimented the new round of NY2020 that includes performance-based incentives and other measures as offering colleges and universities an opportunity “to expand cooperative education and online learning.”

The approach fits well into the governor’s out-of-the box idea to offer incentives to students to go into the science, technology, engineering and math field – the STEM subjects. It is an area of extreme importance on statewide and national levels and one with far too few students and professionals.

But Cuomo wants to change that by offering some students at the top of their classes an opportunity to skip tuition payments, if they plan to major in a field related to the STEM subjects. Those students would receive free tuition to any SUNY or CUNY institution, as long as they remain in the state for five years after graduation to pursue their careers. This is an $8 million budget line designed to stem the brain drain flow and one that is well worth the money.

Science and technology is a theme in the $110 million offered for Round III of NYSUNY 2020 and NYCUNY 2020, with priority given to plans that use technology – including more online instruction – to improve students’ success in school and in job searches.

There are other items to like in the governor’s focus on higher education, including START-UP NY, the state high-tech incubator program initiated in 2013 that creates “tax-free zones” on and near campuses for new businesses that affiliate with public and private colleges and universities in upstate communities.

There’s the previously announced NY Genomic Medicine Network that involves a $105 million investment in new companies in Western New York and is part of the “Buffalo billion” and efforts on the community college level, including a proposal that would expand the NY Youth Works program for job training.

Cuomo has offered ideas to enhance higher education and make New York State and its graduates more competitive. His plan should be welcomed and accepted by the Legislature.

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