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SUNY wants to continue automatic tuition increases

Students walk out of the Student Union on

Students walk out of the Student Union on the Stony Brook University campus on Sept. 9, 2014. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

ALBANY -- Hundreds of thousands of students attending the State University of New York would continue to see automatic increases in tuition of as much as $300 a year for another five years under SUNY's budget proposals.

SUNY has increased tuition for four straight years under its "rational tuition" program designed to better fund SUNY though predictable tuition hikes. The program is scheduled to end next year.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and SUNY board chairman H. Carl McCall said at a news conference Wednesday that they want to continue the tuition increases to show they are moving to tap all possible revenue sources as they push to get more aid under the state budget now under negotiation.

"In the last four years, students and their families have all invested $300 more per year in tuition," McCall said. "So the students have done their part. It is now time for the state to do its part and invest in SUNY."

Noting the $300 ceiling on annual tuition hikes under the tuition program, Zimpher said, "I don't think we will see us going to the ceiling every time over the next five years." However, "I don't think we can predict 2020 to 2025."

The United University Professions union, in a different tack, opposes a tuition increase and demands more state aid.

"My family can't afford higher tuition and fees," says one student in a UUP TV ad running in Buffalo, Syracuse, Albany, New York City and on Long Island.

"Governor, you say you care about education. . . . Then do what's right for us. . . . Do what's right for SUNY," others add.

SUNY officials said students and their families strongly support the annual tuition increases. They said the rational tuition plan attracts some students because it reliably predicts future costs.

"It shouldn't be about increasing the cost of going to college, but decreasing it," said Blair Horner of the New York Public Interest Research Group, which is funded in part by student activity fees.

"This is jacking up the college tax at a time when wages have stagnated," he said. "The state budget hasn't stagnated, but its support for college has."

The Cuomo administration said it has upheld its commitment to provide funding increases to SUNY under a "maintenance of effort" agreement that was part of the tuition legislation.

SUNY officials said its colleges and universities still are among the most affordable public institutions in the Northeast and among the five lowest cost public systems nationwide.

Full-time tuition is $6,150 a year for state residents, but varies slightly by campus. The university centers at Stony Brook, Albany, Binghamton and Buffalo were allowed to charge higher tuition. For example, in-state tuition at Farmingdale State College is $7,483, while it is $8,430 at Stony Brook.

By comparison, four-year college in-state tuition at Framingham State University in Massachusetts is $8,320, while the University of Massachusetts at Amherst charges $13,443, according to a survey by the national Chronicle of Higher Education. Central Connecticut State charges $8,877, and the University of Connecticut charges $12,700.

The College of New Jersey charges $15,024 while Thomas Edison State College charges $5,821. California charges as little as $5,963 for the state college Monterey Bay and $14,757 at the University of California at Irvine.

Zimpher said the tuition increases so far have allowed the hiring of 250 more full-time instructors, and funded more mentoring and remedial work for students who need more preparation for college.

She said that allows more students to graduate within four years, rather than being forced to attend additional semesters because no slots were available in required classes. The graduation rate in four years in the 64-campus system is 47 percent.

In 2011, SUNY officials and Cuomo sought the automatic increases following politically difficult votes to approve spikes in tuition after long periods in which tuition wasn't increased. Tuition then was $4,970. Over the previous 20 years, tuition had increased by a total of about 6.7 percent.

SUNY's budget proposal also seeks a $50 million increase in aid each year for five years and $600 million in capital aid -- three times what Cuomo has proposed.

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