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Extension of NYSUNY 2020 UB’s top legislative priority

By SUE WUETCHER

Published February 16, 2016

Extension of the NYSUNY 2020 predictable tuition program for another five years is UB’s top legislative priority, President Satish K. Tripathi’s chief of staff told the UB Council on Monday.

Speaking at the council meeting on behalf of Tripathi, who was out of the country, Beth Del Genio updated council members on the university’s advocacy agenda for the coming year, which, she said, encompasses three components: policy, budget and capital.

For the past five years, NYSUNY 2020, which provides for an annual $300 tuition increase for in-state undergraduate students, has played “a significant role in keeping education across SUNY affordable,” Del Genio said, noting the rational tuition plan has helped keep tuition “predictable” and “stable” for UB students and their families, as well as enabling UB to provide “significant investment in need-based financial aid.”

She added that UB invested more than $35 million in need-based financial aid during the first five years of NYSUNY 2020.

The plan, which allows campuses to keep these tuition dollars on campus rather than funneling them into the state’s general fund, has enabled UB to make significant investments in student education, Del Genio said, pointing specifically to UB’s Finish in 4 program and the hiring of more than 290 “world-class” faculty. Funds from NYSUNY 2020 also are helping UB develop its new general education program, set to launch this coming fall, she said. And during this time UB has seen significant increases in its four-year and six-year graduation rates, she noted.

The good news regarding a NYSUNY 2020 extension, which would keep the rational tuition plan in place for another five years — through 2020 — is that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has included it in his 2016-17 budget proposal, Del Genio said. She noted the extension also is supported by the SUNY Student Assembly, the Western New York legislative delegation and the majority leader of the state Senate.

The news is not quite so encouraging, however, regarding the budget and capital components of the advocacy agenda.

Del Genio reported that while last year’s budget included $4.7 million to cover increases provided through collective bargaining agreements, there is no such money in this year’s plan. To provide council members some perspective, she said that within a three-year window, the collective bargaining increases to UB “is over a $20 million budgetary hit to the university … That’s a significant impact on our budget.”

She also noted that both the Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences and the Center of Excellence in Materials Informatics both received budget allocations of $872,000, down from last year’s allocation of $1 million. UB will be working to get that budget line back to $1 million, she said.

Turning to the capital component of the advocacy agenda, Del Genio said the capital budget, which includes funds for critical maintenance as well as strategic priority projects, is another key priority for UB. Del Genio defined critical maintenance as “bricks and mortar and roofs.” Critical maintenance funds are used to pay for needed repairs, maintenance of existing structures and renovation of outdated facilities, she said.

Although SUNY requested the state provide $600 million in capital funds, the system only was allocated $200 million. Of that $200 million, UB’s share is $17.2 million, she said.

UB did not receive any money for strategic projects, she pointed out. UB is asking for $15 million in “strategic priority dollars” to renovate Parker and Townsend halls on the South Campus in order to free up space and move the School of Social Work from the overcrowded North Campus to the South Campus.

She also mentioned that a sixth year of NYSUNY 2020 would include a $55 million, competitive capital program. UB is still investigating whether it and the other three university centers would be eligible to compete for these funds.

The Western New York delegation is “very supportive of our three-pronged advocacy agenda,” she said. “We believe our investments are translating into significant outcomes, not just here on campus but for the broader communities we serve here in Buffalo and across the nation and globe.”

In other business, council members heard two brief presentations on UB’s cancer research.

Jean Wactawski-Wende, SUNY Distinguished Professor and dean of the School of Public Health and Health Professions, reported that faculty members in SPHHP were working on research in a number of areas, among them Heather Ochs-Balcom, who is identifying genes that increase breast cancer susceptibility in African-American women; Amy Millen, who studies vitamin D and breast cancer; Jo Freudenheim, who does work on methylation and breast cancer; and Gary Giovino, who leads work on tobacco use.

Wactawski-Wende focused in particular on the Women’s Health Initiative, a study that has been going on at UB and nationally for nearly 22 years — and will continue for another five years, thanks to a recent five-year grant extension.

She noted that a key finding in 2002 by WHI investigators that hormone therapy was not preventive of chronic disease but, in fact, increased heart disease, stroke, pulmonary emboli and breast cancer “became one of, if not the most important health finding that had occurred.”

“It changed medicine, at least in terms of menopausal women’s health,” she said.

The finding led to a drop in the number of prescriptions written for Prempro, a popular hormone therapy drug. And with fewer women on hormone therapy, the number of cases of breast cancer declined across the U.S. and worldwide, “and it continues to decrease as the result of this important study,” she said.

This WHI trial also had significant economic impact, Wactawski-Wende noted. The trial cost $260 million to put into place and an analysis in 2014 of the 10-year impact of the trial found that it saved $37 billion in the U.S. health care system.

But more important, she said, were the lives that were saved. It is estimated that due to the decline in hormone use “126,000 fewer women developed breast cancer,” she said.

Wactawski-Wende was followed by Jonathan Lovell, assistant professor of biomedical engineering, who talked about the work his research team is doing in developing a better method to deliver cancer-fighting drugs to tumors.

The method involves encapsulating the drugs in nanoballoons — tiny, modified liposomes — that pop open when struck by a red laser and deliver concentrated doses of the medicine.