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Strategy on higher education includes easing tuition to reverse ‘brain drain’ from state

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo gave significant attention to higher education when he was first elected, and that may be part of the reason that higher education drew barely a mention in his 2014 budget address Tuesday.

Four years ago, students at state universities and colleges regularly faced unexpected and substantial tuition increases. But in 2011, his first year in office, Cuomo signed the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program, instituting a “rational and predictable” tuition policy that allowed for tuition increases of no more than $300 per year, with the state guaranteeing operating support to accommodate the schools’ cost increases.

Consistent with that, for 2014-15, the executive budget proposal provides the State University of New York with $95 million in additional spending authority and the City University of New York with $61 million more.

New this year under the governor’s budget proposal, some students at the top of their classes will have a chance to skip tuition payments entirely. Those who plan to major in a field related to the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) subjects 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. The $8 million budget line is intended to help reverse the “brain drain” of the best and brightest from New York State.

Also proposed, as expected, is $110 million for Round III to continue NYSUNY 2020 and NYCUNY 2020. The money would be divided equally between the two systems, with priority given to plans that use technology – including more online instruction – to improve students’ success while in school and when finding jobs.

The money also would support 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.

Creation of the previously announced NY Genomic Medicine Network, with a $105 million investment in new companies in Western New York, is part of the Buffalo Billion and will fund the University at Buffalo’s partnership with the NY Genome Center in New York City and researchers at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, with the goal of advancing medicine and providing jobs.

Laura E. Hubbard, UB vice president for finance and administration, said the university was pleased to see the funding for the genomic network. “UB’s blend of expertise in medical research, life sciences innovation and high-performance computing is key to this effort,” she said in a statement.

On the community college level, the proposal would expand the NY Youth Works program for job training by encouraging employers to partner with community colleges so job seekers could acquire needed skills and be certified under the Job Linkage Program.

New in the Cuomo budget is $15 million to create the nation’s first College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity. Also, $10 million for planning and development costs for a new School of Pharmacology at the University at Binghamton.