More Power for New York’s Public Colleges?

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From the Chronicle of Higher Education comes news that the governor of New York, David Paterson, is proposing greater independence for the state and city university systems. According to the article, in Peterson’s 2010-11 budget:

Is a proposal to remove tuition from the state’s budget process and to allow universities to receive that revenue without an appropriation by lawmakers. In the past, the state has opted to retain a portion of the proceeds of tuition increases in order to balance the state budget.

The public universities would also be allowed greater flexibility to set different tuition rates for different programs and on different campuses within the systems.

For Governor Paterson, not generally known as a major thinker or, well, statesman, this move is an interesting shift. If successful, the move would give City University of New York (CUNY) and State University of New York (SUNY) schools a great deal more power over their own affairs. According to the article:

In exchange for that increased authority, trustees of the State and City Universities would be able to raise tuition by only 2.5 times the five-year average rate of the Higher Education Price Index, a widely used measure of colleges’ inflation costs. That limit would not only constrain the governing boards of the systems, but also provide a measure of predictability to parents and students who are trying to plan for the costs of education, said Allan H. Dobrin, vice chancellor and chief operating officer of the City University of New York.

While each of these individual steps looks very promising, it seems like the general process looks suspiciously like further separation of the state from its state university. While universities may individually make bad decisions, ultimately the state control in exchange for state support is a good bargain. Greater autonomy for state universities means more privatization.

Daniel Luzer

Daniel Luzer is the news editor at Governing Magazine and former web editor of the Washington Monthly. Find him on Twitter: @Daniel_Luzer