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SUNY union calls for more state funding to prevent cuts at state colleges

Ellen Abbott / WRVO News Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions, speaks at SUNY ESF Thursday
Ellen Abbott / WRVO News Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions, speaks at SUNY ESF Thursday

WRVO-The nation’s biggest higher education union is asking New York State for $1 billion to help pull SUNY campuses out of massive operating deficits.

Fred Kowal, president of United University Professions, said he’s shining a spotlight on the issue now, with the hopes Albany sees the need to fully fund SUNY schools during the upcoming budget process. He said it’s an issue that’s been brewing since the Great Recession, and exacerbated by years of austerity budgets and then the COVID pandemic.

Kowal said part of the strategy is to emphasize how these 64 universities and colleges are internal economic drivers to many central New York communities.

“I live in Cobleskill, New York. Without the SUNY campus there, there’s nothing there," said Kowal. "The same could be said for Morrisville, maybe Cortland. So you have a lot of upstate communities where this is the industry. And it’s an important one, because it brings so many ripple effects in culture and so on."

Kowal said statewide, SUNY has a an economic impact of nearly $30 billion a year.

The debts from different campuses add up to about $150 million right now, ranging from SUNY Oswego with a $5 million projected deficit, to SUNY Cortland, which is looking at a nearly $11 million deficit.

Kowal said the years of chronic underfunding has brought SUNY to a breaking point, and there will be impacts if nothing’s done.

"I think what you will start to see is programs in danger of being shut down," he said. "I don’t see any immediate horizon campuses. I think more of a danger, we don’t represent the labor and faculty and staff at community colleges. But community colleges are in desperate financial shape."

Kowal is looking for a total of $1 billion for higher education, urging the state to spend $350 million in operating aid to relieve schools of current debts, help finance SUNY hospitals, as well as expand programs and enrollment.