SUNY Potsdam cutting 14 more programs to start dealing with $9M budget deficit, 43% enrollment decrease

Posted 9/19/23

BY JEFF CHUDZINSKI North Country This Week POTSDAM — Fourteen more SUNY Potsdam programs, in addition to four announced this summer, are slated to be discontinued as college officials work to close …

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SUNY Potsdam cutting 14 more programs to start dealing with $9M budget deficit, 43% enrollment decrease


North Country This Week

POTSDAM — Fourteen more SUNY Potsdam programs, in addition to four announced this summer, are slated to be discontinued as college officials work to close a $9 million budget deficit.

The plan will play out over the next three to five years to allow students currently enrolled to graduate with a SUNY Potsdam degree, according to President Suzanne Smith.

Smith and college officials unveiled a comprehensive financial restructuring plan Tuesday morning that will see SUNY Potsdam enrollment stabilize at 2,500 students with hopes to slowly expand to 3,000.

Enrollment has dropped more than 40% since 2012, when enrollment stood at 4,224.

SUNY Potsdam currently receives $38 million in revenue against $47 million in expenses, Smith said during an address in Snell Music Theater that was followed by a press conference.

“What that means is that to balance our annual budget, we need to find a way to spend $9 million less each year once monthly salaries are paid,” Smith said.

Programs to be cut

Programs to be cut will include Art History (BA), Arts Management (BA), Biochemistry (BS), Chemistry (BA), Chemistry (BS), Dance (BA), French (BA), Music Performance (MM), Philosophy (BA), Physics (BA), Public Health (BS), Public Health (MS), Spanish (BA) and Theatre (BA).

In August, college officials had already confirmed that College Teaching (CAS), Computer Science Education (BA), Geographic Information Science (BS), and Speech Communication (BA) would be eliminated.

According to Smith, the program cuts announced Tuesday currently account for 6.3% of enrollment.

“Potsdam is already in debt, with nothing left to fund other day-to-day operations. This is clearly not sustainable. And we have failed to address the problem in any substantial way for far too long,” she continued.

Officials are also considering closing four buildings. Those under consideration are Dunn Hall, along with Knowles South, East and West.

Smith noted that SUNY and school officials are aware of increased costs in coming years, saying the school must “define the start” and begin to address the challenges ahead to make the school financially stable and sustainable again for future generations.

“Without immediate action, the future of this institution that we all know and love is uncertain…but there is a way forward over the past several months,” Smith said.

Committed to Potsdam

Still, SUNY Chancellor John King, who was also in attendance, said the state is committed to assisting SUNY Potsdam and ensuring the long term health of the institution.

“We are committed to SUNY Potsdam’s long term health. It's one of our founding SUNY campuses and this is a plan that will help Potsdam be sustainable for the long term,” he said.

School officials said the undergraduate Music Performance Program would be left intact, with only the masters program being impacted by the cuts.

Smith said the school will remain committed to the general education curriculum as well.

“I want to stress that this plan is evolving and there is still some room for conversation and exploration,” she said.

Smith stressed the cuts are not a reflection on the quality of programs and educators. University officials are “making difficult but necessary decisions for our campus as a whole based on hard facts” based on limited resources, she said.

“It's important to note that just because the program's being discontinued does not necessarily mean that all positions in that area will be cut,” she continued.

Smaller pool of students

Smith noted college officials are competing for a smaller pool of college-bound students compared to earlier years, exacerbating the school’s enrollment issues.

“If you look at the national landscape and look more particularly in our region, the demographics, the number of students that are available to attend college is decreasing. So that's especially true up in the North Country. And so the pool that we have to pull from is going to continue to shrink, probably at least for the next decade,” Smith said.

“I think we're really taking a holistic approach to this. A lot of these programs are interdependent. So we want to be sure that we support the programs that are remaining,” Interim Provost Alan Hersker said.

Though in-person programs are going to be cut, Smith said online offerings will be increased “in areas focused on our strengths to increase enrollment.”

“We are exploring innovative academic programs in the areas of proven expertise and student demand and will invest in their development. It's another potential area of growth that has been as of yet unexplored,” she said.

Smith said now is the time for the university to be creative and to work with colleagues from other disciplines. “This is also an opportunity to explore potential partnerships to benefit the community and our graduates alike,” Smith said.

Roadmap for stability

Smith said the President’s Council, composed of many of the college’s top-level deans and administrators, is working with experts to develop a roadmap to financially stabilize the school.

SUNY Potsdam is one of St. Lawrence County’s largest employers and injects $350 million annually into the regional economy, she noted. That impact is not taken lightly by school officials, she said.

SUNY Potsdam received $3.6 million in additional in-state operating support this year, a 25% increase.

“We’re committed to the unique identity of SUNY Potsdam…so we'll continue to look for opportunities to make sure that students have the maximum academic opportunities available to them,” King said.

Smith said nothing has been ruled out when asked about the potential repurposing of the four buildings slated for closure.

“At this point, we're not ruling anything out or in. We're literally just thinking about what will our campus footprint look like? And I'm going to put together a working group to look at that, to look at all of our campus facilities to see what makes the most sense,” she said.

School officials hope to better utilize existing space in other buildings across campus while redistributing those resources campus wide.

Slow decline at SUNY Potsdam

Smith said a decline in enrollment of 43% has weighed heavily on the university, which has maintained staffing levels that are unsustainable.

“But our workforce has diminished far less. Indeed, many private institutions around New York have faced similar declines. And, regrettably, some of them have even closed their doors. The aspirations of our students and the degrees they want…the careers they wish to pursue, have evolved,” Smith said.

Enrollment declines are nothing new to the SUNY system, though adjustments in direct state funding to SUNY has played a large roll in many schools being forced to cut programs and staff.

“Years of underfunding SUNY has taken its toll,” said Frederick E. Kowal, president of United University Professions, the union that represents faculty on campus.

When adjusted for inflation, direct state funding to SUNY has been slashed by $7.8 billion since 2008-09—a 39 percent decline, according to UUP officials.

Under former Gov. Andrew Cuomo, students were forced to shoulder the majority of SUNY’s funding through tuition and fees. Students contribute $2 for every dollar the state provides, the UUP said.

“Campuses like Potsdam have been forced to utilize reserve funds, cut class sections, and reduce program offerings to balance their budgets. And that’s made it more difficult for them to attract and retain students, causing reduced tuition revenue and a widening budget gap.”