Towns presented the New York State Budget, which included scholarship money for N.Y. high school students. (BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN)

Towns presented the New York State Budget, which included scholarship money for N.Y. high school students. (BASIL JOHN / THE STATESMAN)

Higher education plays a key role in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2014–2015 budget plan, outlined last Friday at Stony Brook University’s Wang Center Chapel by Commissioner and CEO of New York State Homes and Community Renewal Darryl Towns, a member of the governor’s cabinet.

Among tax cuts and investments in health care and public education, the budget includes additional funds for NYSUNY 2020 and START-UP NY — economic development programs that work through State University of New York campuses — as well as scholarships for students in STEM fields and a student consumer protection initiative.

The largest of these allocations is $55 million for new NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grants, which fund projects on SUNY campuses that promote economic development.

The money will go to projects that improve educational technology, connect students to the workforce and support the START-UP NY initiative, which creates partnerships between SUNY schools and private business.

Stony Brook itself will be applying for a Challenge Grant in February, according to President of the University Senate Frederick Walter, who was at the event.

START­­–UP NY, in cooperation with Regional Economic Development Councils, will additionally receive separate funding to begin attracting international investment in upstate New York.

For students, the budget includes $8 million for a new STEM scholarship program that will grant full tuition at SUNY and City University of New York schools.

The scholarships will be given to New York high school students in the top 10 percent of their class, provided they work in New York for five years after graduating. However, given the current tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools, the investment would not be able to provide more than 166 four-year scholarships before administrative costs.

Walter said he will wait until more information on the program before passing judgment, but questioned the requirement that students work in New York for five years after graduating.

“Does that mean you can’t go to grad school?” he asked. “Scholarships are clearly a good thing, but we have to wait for the details.”

Towns said, “I think that really what the governor is trying to signal is that he’s trying to create and open up the opportunities for STEM business, but wants to open it up with New York bread and workers.”

The budget also provides funding for a new Student Protection Unit in the Department of Financial Services, which has already subpoenaed 13 student loan companies in an investigation of student loan practices.

President Samuel L. Stanley, who attended the Governor’s State of the State address, said the governor had “once again found new ways to use SUNY as a way to create jobs and create new opportunities for our students and everyone else in the state.”

The budget makes additional investments in specific projects on New York college campuses, including $15 million for the establishment of a new SUNY College of Emergency Preparedness, Homeland Security and Cybersecurity. The college’s academic goals, location and other details have yet to be decided.

If approved by the state legislature, Cuomo’s budget plan will go into effect on April 1.