August 22, 2008


State cuts worrisome to college

SUNY Cortland president says tuition increase likely in annual address


Bob Ellis/staff photographer   
SUNY Cortland president Erik Bitterbaum addresses faculty and staff Thursday morning to kick off the new school year. 

Staff Reporter

SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum began the new academic year Thursday with glowing news about the incoming freshman class and campus construction, followed by dark news about looming state budget cuts.
“We have quietly become a highly selective institution,” Bitterbaum told college faculty and staff gathered at Corey Union for a kick-off event.
He noted that 11,572 high school students applied for 1,075 spots in the 2008-09 freshman class and the college enrolled 1,231, knowing that some students do not come, some do not stay and the college finds housing for the rest by tripling up students. That is an increase from 1,170 last year. Freshmen were to begin moving into residence halls today, along with 626 transfer students, up from 577.
The first-year students have an average SAT score of 1,100, up from 1,090 in 2007, and average ACT score of 24, up from 23. Their average GPA was 3.2, the same as last year.
Bitterbaum said 17 percent of this year’s freshmen are people of color, up from 7 to 8 percent when he arrived in 2003. He has been pushing for more diversity at the college.
He said the campus itself will be transformed in the years ahead, after $150 million in renovations and new buildings in recent years.
Much of this money comes from New York state, which wants quality educational institutions despite budget cuts called for by Gov. David Paterson. Renovations to the Bowers Science Building, Van Hoesen Hall and Studio West, and construction of a new Education Building with a child-care center, are among the projects under way or planned.
Bitterbaum said the campus has 2,500 computers for student use, compared to 800 when he arrived. Sixty percent of classrooms are now “smart,” wired for online resources.
Then Bitterbaum reviewed the bad news about campus security and budget cuts.
“Our difficulties are real and scary,” Bitterbaum said. “When the governor says we’re heading into a situation comparable to the Great Depression, it gets my attention.”
Paterson called in July for a $1.6 billion state budget cut for the current fiscal year.
Bitterbaum and William Shaut, vice president for finance and management, told the crowd that SUNY Cortland had a 3.7 percent cut originally — $746,000 — and will now have to cut another 7 percent, or $1.47 million. They said the college can use its cash reserves to get through this year but will need help in 2009-10.
Both said a SUNY tuition increase will be necessary to help campuses survive the cuts.
“We’ve had one tuition increase in 13 years,” Bitterbaum said, referring to 2003, when tuition rose by $950, or 3.6 percent, to $4,350.
Bitterbaum also discussed campus safety. He said that as the college tries to improve its emergency response plan, following shootings at Virginia Tech and Northern Illinois universities in recent years, campus police now have 90 percent of students’ cell phone numbers but only 45 percent of faculty members’ numbers. He urged faculty to provide their numbers.
He said the college is battling computer hackers and watching health issues such as avian flu and SARS.
Provost Mark Prus introduced 22 new faculty and five visiting faculty.


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