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Potsdam College Council concerned by SUNY funding changes

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POTSDAM - With an overhaul looming in the way state funds are distributed, SUNY Potsdam officials are hoping the school’s music and arts programs aren’t forgotten when the dust settles.

In an effort to preempt any decisions made in the SUNY central office, SUNY Potsdam’s College Council unanimously approved a resolution Friday urging officials to take into account art and music programs at Potsdam when they develop a new funding distribution formula.

The council’s concerns arise from the set of criteria expected to be included in the funding system. One of the new baselines, peer review, could prove to be troublesome for a school like SUNY Potsdam, officials warned.

The art and music programs make Potsdam different from almost any institution, they said, making a compare and contrast between schools very difficult. And if SUNY Potsdam was found to be lacking compared to its peers, how much funding it is given could be affected.

“We really don’t compare to more than a handful of institutions in the entire country,” University Provost Margaret E. Madden told the council.

“I think we have to be really vigilant about and ask for input.”

Last year SUNY central, the administrative hub of the SUNY network, announced it would review and potentially revise the way it divides over $1 billion in state money to 64 SUNY campuses.

The move was designed to do away with a complex method and create a more efficient way of distributing money, they said.

While many of the plans details remain unclear, SUNY Potsdam officials said the improvements are designed to create a fairer, more transparent system of funding allocations.

University President John F. Schwaller said it is not uncommon for the system to take a closer look at its methods. Every 10 or 15 years the system revamps the way it allocates funding, he said, adding that the current model has been around for about 15 years.

The 2009 appointment of Nancy L. Zimpher as SUNY chancellor, along with the struggles in the economy, highlighted the need for a change to the system in order to distribute money more efficiently, he said.

“I think they recognized that it was okay when times were good but when times were bad it was really not very good at all,” Mr. Schwaller said of the distribution system.

SUNY central currently takes into account over 40 variables when dividing the state funds, moving money around for a variety of reasons, he said.

The new model will do away with a number of special categories, such as the small campus bonus SUNY Potsdam and Canton received, and a special curriculum bonus, which SUNY Potsdam also benefits from with its arts and music programs.

While the specifics of the revamped model remain unclear, Mr. Schwaller said it will include four major criteria - meeting enrollment numbers, graduation and retention rates, strategic goals and how each university stacks up against similar schools around the country.

The universities chosen to be the peer institutions, or comparisons for Potsdam, could prove to be a significant challenge, Ms. Madden said.

“Depending on that selection it will really influence where they think we should be and there’s some particular challenges because we are so unique,” she said.

While SUNY central is still in preliminary discussions, Mr. Schwaller said it hopes to settle on a fairly concrete system April 1st.

The plan will be implemented in parts over the next year before being targeted for full use in April 2013.

“The bottom line is that we don’t anticipate any major changes over the next year,” he said. “After that we will operate according to the rules.”

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