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State Government and Independent Colleges: A View from New York


Laura Anglin


The year 2011 brought both a new governor to the executive chamber here in New York, and a new way of thinking about how to tackle challenges facing the Empire State. Although New York faced persistent, structural budget deficits and waning confidence among New Yorkers both as an electorate and as consumers, Governor Andrew Cuomo and leaders in the state legislature adopted a fiscal plan that invested in student aid programs.

This strong leadership from the new governor and a spirit of cooperation from the legislature resulted in New York state enacting an on-time budget of $132.5 billion for the state’s 2011-12 fiscal year. This plan closed a $10 billion budget deficit and reduced spending by two percent over the prior year. On the whole, this budget was good news for state student aid and targeted programs for disadvantaged students.

With the state’s budget adopted, Governor Cuomo set an ambitious economic development agenda called “Open for Business.” In this job-building agenda, the governor clearly communicated an understanding that colleges and universities are essential to supporting economic growth within the state by educating its next generation of leaders, as well as generating economic impact themselves. In his January 5, 2011 State of the State address, Governor Cuomo affirmed that “higher education will be the key economic driver.”
This support for higher education in New York State—which is home to the nation’s largest collection of private, not-for-profit colleges and universities—recognizes the essential dual role higher education institutions play today. First and foremost, colleges and universities are educating individuals to be active citizens and skilled, creative employees. At the same time, they are the backbone of the state’s economic well-being. In urban neighborhoods and small upstate towns, they often are the largest employer.

New York’s independent sector of higher education is actively supporting the governor’s vision. Our colleges and universities are talent magnets, anchor tenants, private employers, innovation and workforce catalysts, and community partners. These essential roles lift higher education from an economic mainstay to a driver of the next generation of leaders, as well as the entire state economy.

Talent Magnet: Supporting the State’s Students
As you look across New York state, you will find our campuses are defined by history and tradition, and are located in urban, suburban, and rural locations. They are first-class research and cultural facilities. As a world-recognized brand, New York state higher education attracts students from around the world. They are drawn to the impressive array of renowned academic programs, campus environments, social diversity, and quality faculty. In fact, according to research from Postsecondary Education Opportunity, New York state leads the nation in attracting first-time freshmen. These students contribute $4.5 billion to the economy.

New York’s independent education sector enrolled 38 percent of the state’s 1.3 million students studying for degree credit in fall 2010. Additionally, New York continues to rank first among the states in the number of private, not-for profit campuses on the top 50 lists of national universities and liberal arts colleges in the U.S. News and World Report rankings.

In the independent sector of higher education, talented students are more likely to stay in New York and complete their degrees than their counterparts elsewhere. According to the U.S. Department of Education and the New York State Education Department, the five-year graduation rate for the independent sector is 65 percent, compared with 61 percent nationally for peers and just less than 60 percent for all New York state colleges and universities.

Anchoring New York’s Communities and Driving Economic Development

Governor Cuomo’s “Open for Business” agenda— built around the creation of 10 Regional Economic Development Councils—redefines the relationship between state government and businesses with the goal of stimulating regional economic development and creating jobs. These councils seek to change a top-down development model to a community-based approach that emphasizes regions’ unique assets, harnesses local expertise, and empowers each region to set plans and priorities. The councils developed strategic regional plans to compete for approximately $1 billion in state grants. The governor again recognized the importance of higher education by appointing presidents from both public and private colleges and universities to co-chair each council.

The rationale for deeply involving higher education in statewide economic development planning is clear when one looks at New York’s top 10 major employers. This list reveals deep changes in the state’s economic profile over time. The days of manufacturing firm dominance are over, and today’s list prominently features knowledge and service organizations. In fact, two of the state’s 10 largest employers are the University of Rochester and Cornell University.

Collectively, private, not-for profit higher education is a vibrant and growing sector. The aggregate annual economic impact of the independent sector alone is estimated at $54 billion, according to a study conducted by the Center for Governmental Research (CGR), a nonprofit group for objective policy analysis. This impressive figure includes $46 billion in spending by campuses, $4 billion in spending by academic medical centers, and $4 billion in discretionary spending by students and visitors.

Additionally, based on the economic impact study by CGR, private colleges and universities directly and indirectly employed 360,000 people, with a payroll of more than $19 billion in 2009. In many upstate regions, independent campuses act as more than anchor tenants. They are, in fact, prime tenants. In nine counties, stretching from the Bronx in the south to St. Lawrence in the north, private campuses employ 5 percent or more of all workers. This employment strength is felt relative to the nation as well. According to a 2010 report by the New York State Comptroller, New York accounts for 14 percent of all private higher education jobs in the nation—40 percent more than second-ranked California.

Today’s Workforce, Tomorrow’s Ideas
With the meteoric rise in the technological needs of the economy, colleges and universities also serve important roles as workforce and innovation catalysts. The most significant way the independent sector acts as a workforce catalyst is to educate students to be future leaders and innovators.

Private, not-for-profit colleges and universities awarded more than six in every 10 (63 percent) bachelor’s and graduate degrees, according to the latest available data from 2008-09. Moreover, the independent sector also confers large share of the degrees in critical need areas including engineering, computer and information sciences, biological and biomedical sciences, health professions, and education, according to the New York State Education Department. Our campuses produce world-class engineers, scientists, health professionals, business people, and government leaders who move our state forward in a broad spectrum of achievements— from the development of ground-breaking ideas to profitable businesses.

In addition to developing the workforce, colleges and universities produce scientific discoveries, transfer technology, advance health, and provide entrepreneurial assistance that furthers innovation and changes the way we live, work, and think. Colleges and universities are forward-thinking at a moment when New York faces the greatest need for creative enterprise. In particular, our state ranks second in the nation in R&D expenditures for colleges and universities ($4 billion), according to the National Science Foundation. It ranks third in grant dollars ($1.9 billion) conferred by the National Institutes of Health. World-class research makes New York a driving force for the new knowledge economy. Research and development activity generates royalties from licenses, patents, and other technology transfer, and fuels hundreds of businesses founded each year on technologies licensed from independent sector member campuses.

Teaming Up to Brighten New York’s Future

Finally, New York state’s 100-plus private, not-for profit colleges and universities have partnerships with local and regional community organizations that contribute to the lives of residents and the social fabric of communities. The independent sector boasts thousands of projects that reach from the tip of Long Island to the dense boroughs of New York City, into the Adirondack forests, and west to the Great Lakes. Each tells a unique story of how partnerships empower community members to become active stakeholders in their neighborhoods.

Few entities hold such a unique set of resources as New York’s independent colleges and universities. These same resources are perfectly suited to help revive and enrich struggling communities across the Empire State. Recognizing this, the independent sector launched an initiative in spring 2011 to highlight collaborations between New York’s private, not-for profit campuses and their communities.

The Campus Community Partners initiative, and its companion website, draws attention to the diverse human, intellectual, cultural, and institutional resources that private, not-for-profit colleges offer their communities. The website hosts a database of projects and events that are taking place in all corners of the state, and records the stories of how “campus and community” team up to revitalize economies, generate jobs, support community development, improve neighborhood safety, encourage civic participation, and generate a host of community-strengthening activities.

Educating Future Leaders and Transforming New York’s Economy
Ultimately, for any state in challenging economic times, higher education can be a partner in unlocking future potential and stabilizing the economy. The well-being of any college or university is interwoven with the economic vitality of its community, region, and state. So to thrive, a state, its leaders, its business community, and its higher education institutions must work closely together to realize change and support growth. In the past year, New York state has been working toward a model of cooperation and partnership that will pay long-term dividends in generating future jobs, knowledge, and economic growth.

Laura Anglin is president of the New York-based Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.