Cuomo proposes annual SUNY tuition hikes

Students walk past the student activity center at Students walk past the student activity center at Stony Brook University. (Sept. 21, 2010) Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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ALBANY -- Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo Thursday proposed 5 percent annual tuition increases at most State University of New York campuses and 8 percent hikes at the four major research centers over the next five years.

The governor's bill, which would affect 175,000 students on 29 four-year campuses if it were approved by the legislature, would boost tuition costs 27 percent over the five years to about $6,340 from $4,970, and 47 percent to just over $7,300 at Stony Brook University and the three other research centers.

The City University of New York system is not affected by Cuomo's measure.

Cuomo said the "rational tuition" plan would end the boom-and-bust cycle of SUNY practices: years of tuition freezes followed by huge increases, some as high as 43 percent.

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

Cuomo said the plan also would help fund the "SUNY 2020" grant program, which offers $35 million to each of the research centers to develop proposals to boost academic programs and local economic development. Just a week ago, Stony Brook unveiled a proposal to use the grant to create a cancer-research center and add more full-time faculty.

The governor's proposal is by no means a shoo-in.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver (D-Manhattan) has warned any approval of a tuition hike would have to be accompanied by a commitment, written into statute, that lawmakers would not reduce basic operational aid to SUNY campuses -- as has occurred before. Though Cuomo has said he supports that concept, his bill contained no such guarantee.

While not commenting directly on Cuomo's bill, Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos (R-Rockville Centre) said through a spokesman, "We believe it's essential that SUNY be given the flexibility it needs to continue to grow, create jobs, and help revitalize our local and regional economies." Skelos has said previously that he, too, supports the "maintenance of effort" concept noted by Silver.

Students Thursday were mostly disappointed.

Farmingdale State College sophomore Tara Ryan said the tuition increase might be bad money-wise, but she is happy about how it would be implemented.

"If they slowly increase the tuition, then it is not as bad as hitting us hard right away," Ryan said. "It is kind of hard to balance work schedules with school, but I might increase work hours to stay in school."

Tsidi Tamakloe, 23, a Rockland County senior majoring in health science and biology at Stony Brook, said he went to community college for his first two years of college to save money. "I don't think they really care about us that much."

SUNY administrators and campus presidents -- including all three on Long Island -- back Cuomo's proposal.

"There is no doubt that a rational tuition plan that will help the public colleges develop a long-term financial strategy is absolutely necessary," said Farmingdale State President W. Hubert Keen.

Some state legislators have favored a "rational tuition" increase plan for years, though it's never gained much traction. Cuomo's support gives it urgency as lawmakers moved toward wrapping up this year's legislative session, set to end June 20.

With Ibrahim Hirsi

and Nicholas Spangler

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