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2016 April 13 - 10:38 pm

Lawmakers Balk at Renewing SUNY Tuition Hike Program

Five-Year Plans for Tuition Increases Aimed at Providing Capital Funding

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — The renewal of a five-year program of tuition increases and investment in the State University of New York system is in doubt amid questions about increasing financial burdens on students and whether its goals have been achieved.

SUNY 2020 was intended to provide funding for capital projects, and Gov. Andrew Cuomo and other supporters said it would give parents and students more certainty about expenses, with the system’s trustees having the option to increase tuition up to $300 in each of the first five years.

Previously, they could be hit with “unpredictable changes in tuition,” SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said.

Because the board approved the $300 maximum increase each year, SUNY tuition has grown by at least three times the rate of inflation every year since 2011. Tuition for in-state undergraduate students is now $6,470.

That total increase of 30 percent was more than double the 13- percent growth of instate tuition and fees nationally at public, fouryear institutions, according to data from the College Board.

Zimpher said the steep increase was needed because the system was “catching up” decreases in funding from the state.

But Victoria Wood, a junior from Schodack who attends the University at Albany, said increases are “horrible because that means more people won’t be able to afford it.” And she thinks “they’re putting too much pressure on the student.”

United University Professions, the union of SUNY employees, also said the financial burden has shifted. Before SUNY 2020, the state was contributing more than 60 percent of SUNY funds, while tuition covered about 30 percent, said UUP president Fred Kowal. Now, he said, students bear up to 66 percent of the costs.

“What we have found is there have been some beneficial aspects of SUNY 2020,” Kowal said. “But the promised state support has not been there, the so-called `maintenance of effort.”‘

He noted SUNY’s original mission to provide affordable education for working class families.

“That vision has become blurred and students have become burdened,” he said.

While Zimpher said the extra tuition dollars go toward hiring faculty, creating programs and helping cover the expenses of students eligible for tuition assistance, some lawmakers are skeptical about where the tuition revenue is going.

“We want to improve the number of full time faculty at both SUNY and (City University of New York),” Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky said. “I’m not sure that’s what’s happened.”

While SUNY says there was a net increase of 919 full- and parttime tenure-track faculty through the end of 2015, UUP reports a lower total of 449 faculty hires across the 31 SUNY campuses up to the current school year.

Without legislative action, SUNY 2020 will sunset in June.

Cuomo has supported the extension but said after a round of budget negotiations he doubts it will be approved by lawmakers.

Both the Senate and the Assembly oppose a tuition increase. The Senate wants to remove the tuition plan language from SUNY 2020 and increase state support. The Assembly wants to freeze tuition for two years and provide $89.3 million to cover that revenue loss.

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