Cuomo Pushes for SUNY Tuition Hike

By Michael Gormley
|  Friday, Jun 10, 2011  |  Updated 7:54 AM EDT
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Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Thursday proposed increasing tuition by more than 25 percent over five years at most State University of New York campuses and by more than 40 percent at the university centers over the same period — measures he said would help parents with college planning and boost SUNY to top academic levels nationally.

His proposal, in the form of a bill, would add $4,370 over five years to the annual tuition at the university centers in Buffalo, Binghamton, Albany and Stony Brook, and add $2,330 to the tuition at SUNY's other 60 campuses. The governor's bill also would create SUNY's first two-tiered system for tuition.

In addition, the measure includes a loan fund and other means to help students pay for the increases, and allows the poorest students to get full coverage under the Tuition Assistance Program.

"This bill brings rationality to the SUNY tuition system, by allowing students and parents to reasonably plan for college expenses, instead of being subject to dramatic tuition increases and uncertainty," Cuomo said.

He said the result would be $140 million to help SUNY school reach the top academic levels nationally while helping regional economies. The governor didn't propose tuition increases for the City University of New York.

The bill drew immediate criticism from Assembly members, who said it would be a big hit to the middle class.

"It's disappointing the governor would think that five years from now the university centers should be 48 percent more expensive for working and middle-class families," said Assembly Higher Education Committee Chairwoman Deborah Glick.

Glick introduced a proposal last week that would increase tuition less than 4 percent a year. The measure would allow SUNY to raise tuition up to $200 a year for all campuses in the fall, and $150 more in each of the following two years.

Currently, SUNY's tuition is less than most public universities. With fees, room and board, the cost of a year at SUNY is over $15,000 a year.

The Senate Republican majority wouldn't comment on Cuomo's proposal, but said SUNY needs "flexibility" to grow.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has said he would accept a tuition increase only if the measure prohibited governors from taking the revenue to balance state budgets and required the state to maintain its funding growth. Neither appears to be addressed in Cuomo's bill.

SUNY funding has been cut nearly 30 percent over the last three years by governors Eliot Spitzer, David Paterson and Cuomo to help address state budget deficits while promising not to raise taxes.

In the past, SUNY students would see no increase in tuition for several years, followed by a large one-year increase.

Cuomo has said 20 years of that practice was equal to an average increase of 6.7 percent. He said his "rational tuition plan" would amount to less of an increase than retaining the past practice of tuition hikes.

Cuomo spokesman Josh Vlasto said tuition is expected to rise 30 percent over five years under "very likely" hikes by the Legislature.

Glick discounted such speculation, saying it shows figures can be manipulated to "prove anything."

"We're looking forward to having more discussions, but this is not a great place to start," Glick said.

Some student groups also support the regular tuition increases as a reliable way to fund SUNY and end what the SUNY Student Assembly calls the "politicization of SUNY tuition."

The student-backed New York Public Interest Research Group, however, has criticized the plan as assuring increases without having to justify a need, while eliminating the public accountability when elected lawmakers have to vote to increase tuition.

NYPIRG's Rebecca Weber said Cuomo's plan could "skyrocket" tuition. She said charging different tuition for university centers could lead to a public education system of "haves and have-nots."

"Plenty of students already fall through the cracks," she said.

Six days remain in the legislative session.

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