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December 10, 2002

Report: New York's higher-education system is a bargain for taxpayers

Although total government spending in New York is too high, New York ranks dead last among all states in investing in higher education, one area of spending that is critical to the state's economic future, a new fiscal analysis from The Public Policy Institute of New York State shows.

"New York's state and local government support for colleges and universities was 30 percent below the national average, on a per-capita basis, in 1999," the report, "Our Higher Education System Is A Bargain For New York Taxpayers," said. The report, which The Institute released Dec. 10, is part of The Institute's Budget Watch '03 series. The new report is posted at www.ppinys.org/budget/budget_watch_03_issue9_higher.pdf.

New York's public and private colleges and universities enrich the lives of more than 1 million enrolled students and award more than 200,000 degrees in a typical year, the report noted.

They also are, more than ever, engines of direct economic development.

"Our research universities are increasingly working in tandem with the best minds in the business world to develop new technologies that, in turn, will create the high-paying jobs of tomorrow," the report said.

In recent years, state lawmakers have recognized the economic importance of these institutions by investing in collaborative research programs such as Gen*NY*sis and the Centers of Excellence Program.

For example, this year's state funding of $250 million for research at the Centers of Excellence is expected to leverage an additional $1 billion in private and federal funding while creating high-paying jobs throughout the state.

The report added: "Those investments will pay off only if they are sustained," the report noted.

"Our institutions of higher education are creating the knowledge workers of the future, and pioneering new technologies-and they're a bargain for the taxpayers, to boot," the report said.

The report also argued that State University of New York institutions could protect their high quality by raising tuition.

"At $3,400 a year, SUNY tuition has been stable for seven years-a rarity in higher education," the report said. State university tuition is far higher in New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Vermont, and other states, and private institutions nationally charge an average of more than $18,000 a year for tuition and fees.

"If SUNY tuition does go up, campuses should be allowed to use additional revenue to continue their efforts to raise quality standards," the report said. "And a portion must also be devoted to offsetting the higher cost for needy students."

The Institute, the research affiliate of The Business Council, launched Budget Watch '03 Nov. 7 to focus attention on spending issues that are at the root of the state's looming fiscal challenge. If the state had held overall state-funds spending to the rate of inflation over the last five years, the state could have saved $7.9 billion.

Additional reports in the series will be issued as the state budget debate unfolds. They can all be accessed from www.ppinys.org/bwatch03.htm.