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Another Voice: Cuomo tightening the belt to make college affordable for all

By Daniel Fuller

In the face of a $4.4 billion deficit, New York State has hard choices ahead. But the decision to allocate funding for private universities more responsibly is a no-brainer.

For years, the state has distributed unrestricted funding known as Bundy Aid to private schools to support students attending these New York institutions. As one might imagine, the way schools use this funding ranges from making tuition more affordable for their students to, less ideally, putting it towards their rising operating costs.

This year, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo proposes increasing the impact of this funding as he continues to uphold his commitment to fiscal responsibility, anchored by a self-imposed 2 percent cap on spending increases. In his 2019 budget, Cuomo calls for shifting Bundy Aid to the more effective Higher Education Capital Matching Grants program, which would ensure that state funding reaches as many students as possible and achieves our shared goals.

Under the governor’s leadership, New York State has provided over $3.1 billion in funding for private schools, or more than any other state in the country except Texas. Last year alone, we provided nearly $390 million in financial assistance to students attending a private college in New York State.

And this year, the governor is proposing an additional $23 million for the Enhanced Tuition Award that goes exclusively toward tuition assistance for New York students attending our private colleges. This program is specifically designed to ensure the funding benefits students who are New York State residents and, because funding is conditional on a cap on tuition increases, doesn’t subsidize private college tuition increases.

But for some operators of private universities, it is never enough. They are now crying foul that their unrestricted state disbursements have been shifted to more targeted spending that benefits their students.

If these administrators were really serious about savings, they may want to look at the salaries of their top administration. Bundy Aid represents a minuscule one tenth of 1 percent of revenue for eligible colleges.

Consider Daemen College, where Bundy Aid goes to “sustain the level of operation” according to their required public reporting on Bundy Aid. The five Daemen College officers make a combined $912,070 in salaries and benefits reported in 2016. That’s more than three times the $270,915 in Bundy Aid the school received in 2016-2017.

At Medaille College, the ratio is even more skewed. The four most compensated officers received $926,369 in compensation and benefits, or seven times their Bundy Aid.

In this challenging fiscal environment, private schools have a responsibility to follow New York’s lead — and the lead of hardworking families across New York — and consider ways to tighten their budgets. The bottom line is that the governor is making strategic, responsible investments to make college affordable for all New Yorkers.

Daniel Fuller is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's assistant secretary for education.

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