In his successful campaign for Governor last year, Eliot Spitzer asked why New York did not have a “Berkeley of the East” and said he wanted New York’s public colleges to be among the finest in the nation. Spitzer’s remark lead to the creation of a 30-member State Commission on Higher Education which releases its findings this morning. The New York Times obtained an advance copy of the report and reported its major findings in yesterday’s Sunday edition.
The report calls for significantly higher financial support for New York public universities and allowing the universities to set their own tuition without state approval and to vary tuition rates by campus. The report also urges hiring 2,000 additional faculty members and creating a $3 billion innovation fund for research grants in fields that can fuel economic development.
The reference to UC Berkeley is an acknowledgement that New York has historically under-invested in its State University of New York (SUNY) system created during Governor Nelson Rockefeller’s tenure. While the system has grown substantially, only 55 percent of New York college students are in public institutions compared with 79 percent nationally. Higher education in New York receives less than 7 percent of the state budget compared with a national average of 11 percent. According to the Times story, John Simpson, the president of SUNY-Buffalo states that “There is a history of chafing between the public universities and the privates in New York State, and the publics have historically not won.”
While SUNY-Buffalo and SUNY-Stony Brook are both belong to the Association of American Universities, the nation’s major research schools, they are not the same caliber at UC Berkeley which is regularly ranked as one of the country’s top three public research institutions. For a state with a spotty track record on major investments in public higher education, Governor Spitzer and the New York public universities will have their work cut out for them when the state legislature convenes next year.