According to state Education Department figures, New York’s public schools are seeing their lowest enrollment numbers since the years after World War II, and that decline is affecting public and private institutions of higher education across the state — from the lecture hall to the budget office.

On Friday, lawmakers heard from higher education leaders, including SUNY Chancellor Dr. John King, in a marathon budget hearing. King has said that SUNY either needs more operating aid from the state or an increase in tuition to address the system’s financial needs.

State Assembly Higher Education Committee chair Pat Fahy agrees that the system needs more resources, especially with the incoming cohort of freshmen.

“That COVID cohort is now moving into college. They need the assistance, let alone the mental health assistance, so you’ve got to have the operating aid for SUNY and CUNY so you can have those student supports, as well as those professors, full-time professors,” Fahy told Capital Tonight.

But on raising tuition, Fahy says it’s not the time.

“I think that’s a very difficult issue, but the timing isn’t right.”

Last year, SUNY and CUNY were provided record state aid increases, and Fahy says “serious investments” from the state are still needed this year. 

“We gave them record investments last year, but this was after years and years of disinvestment. We’re paying a price for that,” she said. 

Fahy points to higher enrollment numbers at both SUNY and CUNY as a sign that the systems have successfully leveraged those increases. 

She also sees a direct connection between funding higher education and economic opportunity. 

“I just read a letter from Micron last night about Onondaga Community College. They expect that population to boom there. OCC is working with them,” she said. “Investments like Micron, we wouldn’t have those if we didn’t have a solid education system.”

Another of Fahy’s goals is to transform the Harriman office campus in Albany into part of the state’s “epicenter” for artificial intelligence research.  

“We have a jewel in SUNY and CUNY, let alone all the options for private colleges," she said.