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Proposed SUNY budget model eliminates more than one-fifth of SUNY Potsdam’s funding

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POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam could suffer one of the cruelest cuts of all.

Despite a positive picture given by President John F. Schwaller at a College Council meeting in November, a new budget allocation model SUNY officials proposed would cut more than one-fifth of the school’s state funding.

So far, the proposed changes are to the detriment of comprehensive campuses such as SUNY Potsdam, which would have its funding decreased from $12.65 million to $9.92 million, a 21.6 percent cut. The reduction would be the second largest by percentage in the SUNY system, with only the SUNY Institute of Technology suffering a more severe cut at 27 percent.

The new model, which emphasizes federally funded research and graduate programs, would be a body blow to SUNY Potsdam after it suffered a drop in graduate enrollment that caused a $600,000 deficit this school year.

Every year, the SUNY system receives funding from the state budget, which is then allocated among its 29 colleges using a complex system that credits schools for enrollment size, amount of research and performance measures such as graduation rates and retention.

After enduring $1.4 billion in cuts over the past four years, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher is pushing the system to reconsider how it allocates funding.

State support for state-operated campuses is $780 million, and $7.3 million of that would be diverted from comprehensive campuses such as SUNY Potsdam to university centers at Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook. Technical colleges such as SUNY Canton would take a $2.7 million reduction, and almost $10 million would be taken from medical schools and the College of Environmental Science and Forestry to fund a $20 million increase for the university centers.

Mr. Schwaller recently told his College Council the budget model as it is proposed would not have as much of a negative impact on his campus as once predicted.

“I am confident we will be able to implement this new model without significant impact on our state allotment,” he said in November.

Mr. Schwaller said he believes a three-year roll-out combined with plans to expand Potsdam’s graduate programs will spare his school the brunt of the change. He also said SUNY Central has promised assistance through the interim, but the form and amount of that assistance has yet to be determined.

“The college is still working with SUNY on the details of the implementation, and the campus won’t know the breakdown of the transition funds until campus officials meet with SUNY system administration in December,” said SUNY Potsdam spokeswoman Alexandra M. Jacobs. “This short-term bridge funding would help make up that gap, while SUNY Potsdam moves forward with an ambitious expansion of graduate programming.”

Those statements contrasted with a presentation at a September meeting, where Mr. Schwaller alerted the college council to the reduction.

“When you look at a budget of $780 million, the fluctuation is small,” he said in September. “Unfortunately, the shift is clear and consistent — all technological colleges lose money, all comprehensive colleges lose money, the movement is to university centers.”

Mr. Schwaller unexpectedly announced his resignation from SUNY Potsdam last week, effective July 31.

Down the road at SUNY Canton, interim President Carli C. Schiffner voiced her support for the model.

“SUNY Canton’s incredible growth over the past several years would be extremely beneficial under the new proposed budget allocation model,” she said. “Under the new guidelines, we would benefit from that growth and be funded more appropriately for a college with an enrollment that has grown to approximately 3,800 students.”

Though the model cuts funding to technical colleges as a whole, SUNY Canton would see its allotment increase because of enrollment growth since the previous model was drafted in 1998. State funding would increase from $6.28 million in 2012-13 to $6.53 million in the next academic year, a 4.5 percent increase.

On Friday, a SUNY spokesperson said the model was not yet official and changes could be made.

The SUNY board of trustees could approve the budget model when it meets Tuesday and Wednesday.

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