SUNY Potsdam revenue down

SUNY Potsdam Provost Bette S. Bergeron, in her office Tuesday afternoon, said the college is facing a $1 million budget shortage due to a decrease in enrollment.

POTSDAM — SUNY Potsdam is anticipating a revenue shortage of about $1 million for the 2017-18 academic year.

The decrease in revenue, which is equivalent to approximately 2.7 percent of the college’s $37.6 million operating budget, is due to the school’s enrollment woes. Enrollment at the college has declined by 607 students, or 14 percent, in the past decade.

According to SUNY Potsdam Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Bette S. Bergeron, the main sources of revenue for the college’s operating budget are state support and campus-generated revenue from tuition, both of which rely on enrollment.

“The demographics are shifting. There are fewer numbers of high school students, so the pipeline is smaller and (there is) more competition, specifically from private schools,” Ms. Bergeron said. “It’s a different landscape now than it was 10 years ago.”

Ms. Bergeron said the drop in enrollment has forced the school to keep a keener eye on students’ needs. In an attempt to attract additional students, the college has begun implementing new programs, such as criminal justice, exercise science and graphic design.

“It keeps us on our toes,” Ms. Bergeron said.

The college had hoped to increase the student body count by 100 full-time students next year; however, that is no longer looking likely. The college has prepared several different budget projections based on an increase of 100 full-time students, having enrollment remain flat or having enrollment reduced by 50 full-time students.

“That approximate $1 million figure is based on the tuition loss and state support which is based on those 100 students,” said Alexandra Jacobs-Wilke, spokeswoman for the school.

Last month, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo unveiled a proposal, the Excelsior Scholarship, to cover tuition costs at the state’s public colleges for low- and middle-income New Yorkers. The Excelsior Scholarship, if passed by the state Legislature, could be implemented as early as this fall.

“We’re pretty excited with the governor’s focus and dedication to the families of New York. It’s a wonderful way to acknowledge the importance of higher education,” Ms. Bergeron said. “We’re optimistic and really thrilled with the governor making this a priority.”

Ms. Bergeron said the free tuition program could have a dramatic effect on the enrollment outlook, depending on multiple factors, including how the initiative is funded. Many skeptics have noted that Gov. Cuomo’s plan lacks many specifics.

“We’re crossing our fingers and we will make adjustments if it goes through,” Ms. Bergeron said. “For us, it seems like it would be positive, although it’s hard to say at this point.”

Ms. Bergeron said the Excelsior Scholarships could assist with retaining students — not necessarily attracting new incoming freshman students to the campus.

“We know that many students throughout the states run into financial roadblocks. They’ll start to come but will have to pause out for a semester due to financial reasons. And once you pause, it’s hard to come back,” she said. “So from a retention standpoint, I think it will be huge.

“In terms of whether it would attract new students into the pipeline, I think we just need to wait and see.”

Unfortunately, potentially increasing enrollment and retaining more students won’t be enough to absorb the $1 million shortage, therefore budget cuts are beginning to be made.

Recently, a six-month-long hiring freeze was placed on refilling positions.

“What we’re doing is looking at the budget from a lot of different angles. Is there some restructuring that could occur to distribute tasks in a more efficient way?” Ms. Bergeron said. “We’re really looking closely at each position.”

Other cuts include a reduction in utility expenses through cost-saving measures like efficient lighting and other forms of energy management.

“I know they’re looking really hard at similar kinds of things with an upfront cost but long-term big savings,” Ms. Bergeron said.

One concern among students is the issue of raising tuition to absorb the budget shortage.

According to Ms. Jacobs-Wilke, tuition rates and contractual salary increases are factors outside of campus control.

“Ultimately, it’s decided by the state,” Ms. Jacobs-Wilke said.

Ms. Bergeron said even though the school is having to cut some of its costs, the education each student receives will not be affected.

“I’m optimistic,” Ms. Bergeron said. “I really think that the campus is going in a great direction and that we’re finding ways to deal with external challenges of which we have no control, while ensuring that the students that are here receive a high-quality experience.”

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