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For SUNY and CUNY, Top Lawmakers Support Plan to Raise Tuition $300 a Year

June 23, 2011

NY Times


For decades, leaders of the City University of New York and the State University of New York have chafed under the whims of state lawmakers who approved double-digit tuition increases in some years and none in others, leaving administrators struggling to make ends meet with little ability to plan ahead.

But in what some university officials and faculty members are hailing as a major victory, legislative leaders in Albany agreed on Tuesday to a policy that would, for the first time, set a fixed rate for tuition increases: $300 annually for the next five years. In the first year alone, the increase is expected to create an additional $50 million in revenue for CUNY, and $40 million for SUNY.

“The last thing you want in higher education is large, unexpected increases that families cannot anticipate,” said Jay Hershenson, senior vice chancellor for university relations at CUNY.

The agreement, which the full Legislature must vote on before it becomes law, would require that all of the money raised from the tuition increases go directly to the universities, according to lawmakers and their aides. In the past, some of the revenue from tuition increases has been used for other state programs. The agreement also calls for state aid to the universities to be maintained at current levels, unless the governor declares a fiscal emergency.

“Across the country, states have been cutting their university systems,” said Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, a Democrat from Manhattan and chairwoman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee. “I think this will stanch the bleeding and begin the rebuilding of what is two great university systems.”

Ms. Glick said the new policy would promote stability not only in the universities, but also in the surrounding communities. “This is investing in our human capital,” she said. “People who go to SUNY and CUNY overwhelmingly remain in the state.”

The increase would affect 136,084 CUNY undergraduates on 11 campuses, including the City College of New York and Hunter College in Manhattan, as well as 909 students taking online classes, CUNY officials said. The current tuition is $4,830 annually for full-time New York residents.

CUNY last raised tuition, by $230, in January, to help offset a nearly $300 million reduction in state aid since 2008 — a loss that brought state financing down to about $1 billion annually, according to university officials.

At SUNY, the increase would affect more than 220,000 students at 29 four-year colleges across the state, including campuses at Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Old Westbury, Purchase and Stony Brook. The current tuition is $4,970; it was last increased, by $310, in 2009.

SUNY officials have said the additional money would be used to decrease class sizes, hire more full-time faculty and maintain existing classes and programs.

Leaders at CUNY and SUNY said they would seek to help students eligible for state tuition assistance by covering all or part of the increase, based on the amount of aid each person currently receives. But some students worried that a $1,500 increase over five years would put college out of reach for many people.

“I think it’s ridiculous,” said Cory Provost, a recent Brooklyn College graduate who is chairman of CUNY’s Student Senate. “Families and students are in a bind because of the economy, and trying to fix the state budget by forcing students to pay more money isn’t going to fix the problem.”

But Kaitlyn Beachner, president of the SUNY Student Assembly, said the unpredictable tuition increases in past years had also been difficult for students. While some students are opposed to any increase, she said, the Student Assembly passed a resolution in 2008 calling for a rational tuition plan that would allow increases of no more than 5.5 percent per year. “We want students to know freshman year how much they would be paying for their education,” she said.

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