Published March 2, 2011
The new bill passed by the New York Senate today in support of the UB 2020 strategic plan will benefit students, families and the economy of Western New York, said University at Buffalo President John B. Simpson, who praised members of the Western New York legislative delegation for their ongoing commitment to the community and to public higher education in New York State.
The bill, which passed with overwhelming bipartisan support (55-1), would give UB the opportunity to create a tuition policy that is fair, responsible and predictable, Simpson said. It would enable UB to use tuition revenue to pursue the UB 2020 plan for academic excellence while protecting students' access to high-quality education, especially for the state's neediest students.
The bill also proposes giving UB relief from outdated state regulations on procurement and would enable creation of public-private partnerships like UB's partnership with Kaleida Health, which has led to the construction of a new medical care and research building in downtown Buffalo.
UB's state funding has been cut $63 million over the past two years, with $17 million in additional cuts expected this year. The cuts have severely impacted the university's efforts to implement the UB 2020 plan for academic and research excellence.
Introduced by Sens. Mark Grisanti, George Maziarz, Patrick Gallivan, Michael Ranzenhofer and Timothy Kennedy, the "UB 2020 Flexibility and Economic Growth Act" proposes reforms to New York law. The reforms will provide UB with the tools to move forward with its ambitious UB 2020 plan, particularly in downtown Buffalo. The UB plan has earned widespread support throughout the region because of its potential to spur regional economic development and create jobs over the next several years.
"We are very grateful to Sens. Grisanti, Maziarz, Gallivan, Ranzenhofer and Kennedy for their steadfast support of these forward-looking policy recommendations," Simpson said. "Today's action will focus the legislature's attention on how these reforms are absolutely necessary as a way to provide the state's students with access to world-class public higher education and give UB the opportunity to help revitalize the Western New York economy through academic and research excellence."
A companion bill has been introduced in the state Assembly. Gov. Cuomo's executive budget announced last month calls for similar reform of state regulations regarding SUNY procurements and public-private partnerships as a way to produce significant revenue growth opportunities for SUNY schools.
The UB 2020 bill would give UB the ability to propose and set tuition rates for undergraduate and graduate programs, upon the approval of the SUNY Board of Trustees. To assure UB remains affordable for students, the bill mandates that between 15 and 20 percent of tuition revenue generated by the increases be used to fund scholarships for financially needy students. These scholarships would be used to provide financial aid to the neediest of students; in 2011 that would mean students with family incomes less than $60,000 annually would receive aid and not feel the effect of a tuition increase. Approximately 30 percent of UB's 19,395 undergraduate students currently would qualify for aid using this standard.
According to the bill, undergraduate tuition for UB programs could not increase by more than $375 per semester, and tuition for UB graduate and professional programs could not increase by more than 15 percent a year. UB's undergraduate and graduate program tuition could not exceed the average tuition charged by public universities in the Association of American Universities (AAU), putting UB tuition on par with peer AAU institutions.
SUNY tuition historically has been increased in tough economic times, sometimes unpredictably and dramatically -- by 14 and 28 percent the last two times tuition was raised. Such increases, however, were used to fund state budget shortfalls instead of funding improvements to SUNY programs and campuses.
The state in 2008 suddenly raised SUNY tuition by 14 percent but kept 90 percent of the revenue to offset budget shortfalls.
"Passage of these reforms remains very important to our university and our community," Simpson said. "They should be extended to all SUNY institutions as a way to preserve academic quality, protect students from erratic and irresponsible tuition increases and help spur statewide economic development through the pursuit of academic and research excellence."
The SUNY Student Assembly, a state-wide student government organization representing SUNY's 435,000 students, this month asked Cuomo to raise SUNY tuition in order to generate revenues needed to protect SUNY education programs from further cuts and continue to provide students with access to quality education.
"We feel keeping tuition at the current level is simply not sustainable, and does not support access and affordability in the long-term, said Student Assembly President Julie Gondar in the statement. "For over three years now, the Student Assembly has proposed a rational tuition policy that would ensure annual, predictable increases that are fair, equitable and responsible.
"By leaving tuition unchanged, students are destined to enter yet another cycle with years of stagnation followed by unmanageable, harsh increases to compensate for the irresponsible past. Rarely do you hear students advocating for any kind of tuition policy other than lowering it. But the reality is that we see rational tuition as a rational way of thinking, and a critical safety net for the protection of students and their families."
The UB 2020 bill's reforms are similar to those contained in 2009's UB 2020 Economic Growth and Flexibility Act, which passed the Senate, and were drawn largely from recommendations by the state's Commission on Higher Education. The reforms also provided the foundation upon which the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act (PHEEIA) was drafted.
Implementation of the UB 2020 plan has become a community-driven initiative in Western New York. It is supported by the Buffalo Niagara Partnership and the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, which has over 10,000 members. More than 30 business, labor, community and university groups support the UB 2020 initiative. They include the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, the City of Buffalo, Erie County and Town of Amherst; Kaleida Health, Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and Roswell Park Cancer Institute; the Board of Block Clubs, United Way and Oishei Foundation; and the UB Undergraduate Association, Faculty Senate, Professional Staff Senate and UB Parent Council.
"During our campaign we championed for the passage of UB 2020, and job creation," said Grisanti. "I am humbled that this is my first sponsored piece of legislation that will help the people of the 60th District and Western New York. Bringing resources and jobs back to Western New York is my No. 1 priority while in office. I hope that this will be a catalyst to start the conversation with the Assembly and governor, and move us closer to getting these important reforms passed."
Maziarz said the Senate is committed to doing everything it can to fulfill the UB 2020 vision for Western New York -- "a vision that is built around jobs, education and economic development."
"With the passage of this legislation, we are reiterating our firm support and our desire to partner with the Assembly and the governor to enact our goals. We are moving the ball forward toward a successful outcome," he said.
Ranzenhofer noted he was "proud to co-sponsor and support this legislation."
"As a graduate of the UB Law School, I understand the positive impact UB has in our region and how critically important UB 2020 is to our community. UB 2020 will modernize and expand the University at Buffalo and, at the same time, create opportunities and provide research and technology for businesses and institutions in our community. The passage of UB 2020 today in the state Senate is the first step to making this a reality. For over two years, I have been a believer in UB and after today, the entire New York State Senate is a believer too."
Gallivan called the UB 2020 plan "one of the most promising economic development initiatives for Western New York in generations."
"Through enactment of this legislation, UB will have the tools necessary to implement its bold vision -- a vision that invests in our region's students, its neighborhoods, its infrastructure and its future," he said. "UB 2020 has broad support from the Western New York delegation and from the community. This legislation was among the first I sponsored as senator and I am excited to see it pass the Senate today with overwhelming support."
Sen. Timothy Kennedy said, "The UB 2020 plan presents a substantial opportunity to turn our regional economy around. It's often during times of economic and fiscal crisis that we find the united energy and groundbreaking innovation to rebuild our economy stronger than it ever has been. A day after we hear of a report that ranks our region as the second-most-difficult place to find a job, it is fitting that we pass a piece of legislation that, if approved by the Assembly and signed by the governor, will spark the ignition of a job creation machine for Western New York. The hardworking men and women of Western New York are hungry for the jobs that UB 2020 will create. We've passed this plan early with statewide, bipartisan support to signal to the Assembly and the governor that it's time we delivered UB 2020, a job-creation plan critical to the economic future of Western New York."
Assemblyman Robin Schimminger noted that "the report that Buffalo is one of the worst cities in which to find a job highlights the need for bold and strong initiatives to get our region moving again."
"Certainly, one such initiative is UB 2020," he said. "In addition to cementing UB's place as a major research university, UB 2020 would create thousands of jobs. The passage of this bill in the Senate is but a first step toward reaching the final goal. With many of UB 2020's provisions contained in the governor's proposed budget, I am hopeful that we will see all or a good measure of UB's bold plan enacted soon."
Assemblyman Sam Hoyt said, "With state support for SUNY and UB declining dramatically over the last several years, UB needs flexibility in the form of these policy reforms in order to provide its students with the excellence they deserve and to become a world-class public research university."
Assemblywoman Crystal Peoples-Stokes said that given the fiscal climate of the state, "UB 2020's public policy reforms make sense for UB, the State University of New York and, most importantly, for the communities in which they reside and impact."
"It is the perfect opportunity to invest in infrastructure and development projects that allow the creation of jobs, boost the local economy and attract high quality professionals. We need for progress to happen for Buffalo and UB without burdening parents and students," she added. "The implementation of a rational tuition policy will help students and parents, especially middle income families, to be able to plan in advance for the school year costs."
Assemblyman Dennis Gabryszak noted that with the passage of the UB 2020 bill in the Senate, the measure "is one step closer to becoming a reality. I urge my colleagues in the Assembly to pass UB 2020. This legislation is evidence that New York legislators believe in and have not overlooked the importance of upstate. UB 2020 will help position Western New York for success and innovation in industry and education; the possibilities are endless."
Paul Brown, president of the Buffalo Building and Construction Trades Council, praised "the hard work, dedication and leadership demonstrated by Sens. Grisanti, Maziarz, Kennedy, Gallivan and Ranzenhofer" in passing the new Senate bill.
"With this bill, these senators are helping move the promise of UB 2020 forward; they, like us, believe strongly that UB 2020 will be a pivotal catalyst for economic growth and job creation in Western New York," Brown added. "I call on the state Assembly to immediately pass these critically important public policies to help Western New Yorkers get back to work."
Andrew J. Rudnick, president and CEO of the Buffalo Niagara Partnership, said the bill's introduction "puts into motion what could be the most economically transformative event to occur in Buffalo Niagara: the implementation of the ambitious UB 2020 growth plan. Now, just as our five senators came together from different parties and different communities to introduce this bill, our region must come together to rally for UB 2020."
Colleen DiPirro, president and CEO of the Amherst Chamber of Commerce, commended the Senate for passing "this critical component for the future of Western New York. As an organization representing over 2,500 members of the business community, we will continue to work with the university and our state representatives to bring the legislation to its full potential."
The University at Buffalo is a premier research-intensive public university, a flagship institution in the State University of New York system and its largest and most comprehensive campus. UB's more than 28,000 students pursue their academic interests through more than 300 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs. Founded in 1846, the University at Buffalo is a member of the Association of American Universities.