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SUNY Officials Call For Tuition Freeze

Karen DeWit

Top State University of New York (SUNY) officials say they want a tuition freeze at the state’s colleges and universities. They are asking Governor Cuomo and the state legislature to adequately fund SUNY in the budget so that they don’t have to raise rates for students. The request comes as lawmakers are scrambling to meet a March 31st budget deadline.

Chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees Carl McCall says the board and its chancellor don’t want to raise tuition, and they want Governor Cuomo and the legislature to help them avoid it.

“We don’t want a tuition increase,” McCall said. “We don’t know anyone else who wants a tuition increase.”

The Senate and Assembly are already on record in their budget proposals opposing a tuition hike for this year, and some students have held a rally and over 350 student groups have sent letters opposing any more increases.

In the past five years, SUNY has raised tuition around $300 per year, in order to make up for a funding deficit. McCall says he’s grateful to the students but now believe they need a break.

“They and their families have helped us to dig out of a very deep hole that we were in,” McCall said. “It terms of cuts that were imposed on the state university system in the past.”

Governor Cuomo’s budget proposal allows SUNY continued authority to raise tuition each year if the board believes it’s necessary. The governor’s budget, however, does not provide enough money in state aid to offset the need for a tuition increase. That could leave SUNY with no choice but to increase tuition by $300 next fall.

McCall says if the legislature and Governor Cuomo agree to add $73 million dollars for public colleges and universities, then the tuition hike could be avoided.

SUNY Board Member Hank Dullea, who is a former top aide to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s father, former Governor Mario Cuomo, says state funding has decreased over the past couple of decades, and students have had to pick up the slack. He says that trend needs to be reversed. 

“We’ve seen the failure, unfortunately, of state aid to keep up expenses that are affecting all of higher education,” Dullea said.

Following a conference committee meeting, legislative leaders were non-committal over whether the tuition hikes will indeed be avoided. They say they’ve agreed to add funding for SUNY, but at a lower level -- $60 million dollars.

“We support a tuition freeze,” said Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie. “But we also want to makes sure that SUNY and CUNY schools in the state of New York have what they need to do, what their mission is.”

Governor Cuomo proposed a cost shift to New York City for some of CUNY’s expenses normally paid by the state. He also proposed around half a billion dollars less than the City University of New York expected based on past rates of increase. But Cuomo later said the money will be made up by finding efficiencies, and he recently announced a panel to come up with administrative savings. The Assembly budget rejected Cuomo’s reductions to CUNY; the Senate budget accepted them.

Senate Leader John Flanagan says he realizes that constantly rising tuition is a hardship for students and their families.

“Everyone, whether its SUNY or CUNY, we’re all sensitive to and cognizant of how important it is to mitigate whatever tuition increases may be out there,” Flanagan said. “If there are any at all.”

A spokesman for Governor Cuomo would only say that “budget negotiations are ongoing,” which is usually a sign that serious private talks are taking place.

Karen has covered state government and politics for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 New York and Connecticut stations, since 1990. She is also a regular contributor to the statewide public television program about New York State government, New York Now. She appears on the reporter’s roundtable segment, and interviews newsmakers.