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The State University of New York hopes to begin offering New York's top academic achievers an appealing new reason to attend college in the state: free tuition.

Suny's board of trustees recently approved a proposal by university Chancellor John W. Ryan to create a $4 million scholarship program to provide valedictorians and salutatorians from any high school in the state with free tuition to attend any SUNY branch.

The proposal, which would require legislation, is intended to help New York stem the loss of intellectual capital that occurs when the state's exceptional students attend out-of-state institutions, said Bob Cudmore, a spokesman for the university.

"The goal is to give the best and brightest New Yorkers an incentive to stay in the state," Mr. Cudmore said.

The scholarship plan was included in the university's overall budget proposal for the state's 1998-99 fiscal year, which will be submitted sometime next spring for approval by the state legislature and Gov. George E. Pataki.

When 1998 college graduates enter the working world next year, they will probably find that their best graduation gift is a healthy job market, a recent report suggests.

Almost 70 percent of employers surveyed by the National Association of Colleges and Employers said that they plan to hire more college graduates in 1998 than they did this year.

Only 3 percent of the 421 employers included in the annual survey reported plans to reduce hiring.

A strong economy, low inflation, and a labor shortage make up a "triangle of circumstances" that put this year's seniors in a strong position to fill jobs, said Camille Luckenbaugh, the employment-information director for the Bethlehem, Pa.-based association.

"The labor market is very tight right now," she said. "A number of respondents say they would hire experienced workers if they could find them, but they can't."

The hiring boom will span multiple facets of the economy, the report predicts, with the majority of employers from both service and manufacturing sectors saying they plan to hire more graduates.

Recent graduates will also be lured to new jobs by higher starting salaries, according to the report, with the biggest starting-salary increase--6.5 percent-- going to liberal arts majors, who are expected to earn an average of $29,000 a year after graduation.

Most employers who responded to the NACE survey reported that their recruitment methods of choice are campus visits and job fairs.

--JESSICA L. SANDHAM [email protected]

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