Paterson's SUNY plan could clear way for tuition hikes

Gov. David A. Paterson delivers his State of

Gov. David A. Paterson delivers his State of the State message in Buffalo. A poll shows voters like his message, but not the messenger. (Jan. 12, 2010) (Credit: AP)

The state's public colleges and universities will be given greater freedom to increase tuition under a plan announced Friday by Gov. David A. Paterson.

Paterson's plan would allow all SUNY and CUNY campuses to raise their tuition. Major research campuses, including Stony Brook, Binghamton and Albany, will be able to charge more than smaller colleges of the State University of New York.

Paterson's plan needs to be approved by the state Legislature, where several Democrats and Republicans already have raised objections.

Based on Paterson's proposal and families' ability to pay, Stony Brook's $5,000 annual tuition could go up as much as 6 percent a year, said Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., president of the university, in an interview. The extra money would allow the school to add 400 faculty members in the next 10 years, he said.

Stanley said the governor's plan, if approved, would allow Stony Brook to become less dependent on the state.

"We're going to remain a tremendous bargain, but we can't keep tuition very low, and lose state support," Stanley said. He called the governor's plan "historic and game-changing."

Because of its location and some of its specialized programs, Farmingdale State also reacted favorably to the governor's proposal. "We would welcome the autonomy," said Farmingdale spokeswoman Kathy Coley.

The funding proposal has been proposed in the past, including during the administration of Gov. George Pataki.

Legislators from Long Island and many other areas with prominent SUNY campuses have long asked Albany to make the schools less dependent on the "tuition roulette" that stays stable in good times and rises when the economy is bad. New York would be following North Carolina, Michigan and other states that are known for excellent flagship state universities that have great financial autonomy.

Stony Brook would reduce tuition for poor and working-class families, the administrators said. They said the governor's blueprint also would give campuses the independence to make deals with businesses and landlords in order to do research and create jobs.

But independent groups cautioned that highly competitive schools such as Stony Brook would probably become significantly more costly than their counterparts such as Old Westbury, ending a tradition of equality in the state university.

"We worry a lot about how differential tuition might price some students out of the more expensive SUNYs," said Fran Clark, who monitors education for the nonprofit New York Public Interest Research Group.

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