Public Higher Education at the Tipping Point

Public Higher Education at the Tipping Point

Across the country, institutions of public higher education are under tremendous economic pressure. Baruch College is no exception, absorbing millions of dollars in state cuts to its budget. Amid these realities, Baruch remains committed to its mission of access and excellence.

Maintaining Quality with Fewer Resources

We live in topsy-turvy times. When support for higher education should be increased in the service of revitalizing a stalled economy, there is a national trend toward reduced support, further hampering economic growth and blunting America’s competitive edge. Cuts to the operating budget of senior colleges within the City University of New York (CUNY) have risen to $300 million since 2009. This spring, after releasing his proposed budget for fiscal year 2011–12, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo agreed with state lawmakers to restore $86 million in planned cuts to New York’s public colleges. Unfortunately, this was only a partial restoration, and CUNY senior colleges still need to find ways to accommodate an operating budget decrease of $91 million.

Across the nation, cutbacks have reduced academic institutional capacity in 43 states, according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a nonpartisan research and policy institute. Among those impacted are such showcase public institutions as the University of California system; Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; and the University of Florida. Unfortunately CUNY and Baruch are part of this list. The prospects for a turnaround aren’t bright. Pressures on federal and state economies “have eroded the ability of states to rebuild their financial support for higher education,” says Paul E. Lingenfelter, executive director of State Higher Education Executive Officers (SHEEO). Notes CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein, there is no way that withering support for higher education “is not going to compromise our higher education system’s ability to move this country forward.”

One way public universities are addressing the problem is to charge students more. CUNY, which implemented a 5 percent tuition increase for the Spring 2011 semester, is a case in point. But the reality is that these extra dollars serve only to offset previous and anticipated funding cuts. Those dollars don’t flow to operating budgets or expand services for students.

Meanwhile, as job growth remains sluggish and private college tuition costs climb, it isn’t surprising that public college enrollment is on the rise. Absent job opportunities, more and more people are returning to school. It is expected that Baruch’s Fall 2011 enrollment will soar to 17,300—a 10 percent increase over the last decade.

While the surge in enrollment is heartening, it’s also a double-edged sword. Four-fifths of all undergraduates in the U.S. attend a public college or university, but public colleges are being asked to support these students with fewer resources. According to a SHEEO report, state and local funding per full-time student today is at a 25-year low.

For Baruch, like public colleges everywhere, there is a fundamental question to face, says Baruch College Provost James McCarthy: “How can we offset declining state support without eroding the quality of our educational mission or the academic progress we have made in the past decade?”

It’s a challenge that is shared by every public college in the United States.

As you would expect from an entrepreneurial culture such as the one at Baruch College, we are already finding answers.

Fresh Strategies for Our Future

Baruch College has always operated smartly and leanly. So, in 2009, when it faced the first substantial cuts in state funding, College leadership began devising solutions. Back-to-back years of decreased funding have necessitated renewed creativity.

“Current initiatives to trim costs and increase revenues are new examples of the entrepreneurial thinking in which Baruch is constantly engaging,” says College President Mitchel Wallerstein, who characterizes Baruch’s multifaceted plan as “positioning us for success, not just survival. The plan avoids serious, detrimental impact to student services and academic programs and protects the strides Baruch has made over the past decade.” The College’s two-pronged efforts focus on greater efficiencies to trim costs and creating additional revenue streams.

Potential efficiencies include administrative reorganizations of selected support units, class and section reorganizations, offering selected courses entirely online or in a hybrid format, sharing instruction in low-enrollment programs with other CUNY colleges, and consolidating administrative services with other CUNY colleges. The combined impact of these steps will be significant. For example, the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences has achieved nearly $300,000 in projected savings through class and section reorganizations that minimize pedagogical impact. Shared staffing between the William and Anita Newman Library and the Baruch Computing and Technology Center should save another $300,000.

Creating new revenue streams will also ease financial pressures, now and in the future. Those proposals include expansion of domestic and international executive programs, modest increases in undergraduate enrollment (with a focus on relatively under-enrolled programs), returning the enrollment of international students to pre-9/11 levels, and academic excellence fees for below-market-priced graduate programs. The combined impact of these steps will also be significant. For example, modest increases in enrollment in relatively under-enrolled undergraduate programs could generate as much as $2 million in new revenue after four years. “New sources of revenue can sustain Baruch in the face of what may be a permanent reduction in public support,” explains President Wallerstein.

The majority of undergraduates in New York City attend CUNY colleges. That’s more than 250,000 New Yorkers being educated annually.


Our in-state tuition compares favorably to other nationally regarded universities. Here’s a small sample.ANNUAL IN-STATE TUITION 2010 –11

Columbia University
Fordham University
Pennsylvania State University
University of California
Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey
Baruch College/CUNY

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