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SUNY Board votes to raise tuition for the fifth time

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By Madeline St. Amour

Assistant News Editor

[email protected]

Nov 18, 2014

   Come next year, expect the tuition bill at SUNY schools to be higher – again. At the Open Formal Meeting of the Board of Trustees for the State University of New York on Nov. 6, the resolution to continue with the Five Year Tuition Plan and increase the tuition of in-state undergraduate students by $300 was passed.

   The Five Year Tuition Plan began when the NY-SUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program Act was passed in 2011. The act was created to help SUNY schools stay afloat amidst state aid reductions and erratic tuition changes by generating money through increased tuition, grants, and capital funds. The Tuition Plan was deemed by SUNY a “rational” way to increase tuition each year in a consistent manner so that students and parents could plan ahead.

The SUNY Board of Trustees voted to raise in-state tuition. Photo by sbstatesman.com
The SUNY Board of Trustees voted to raise in-state tuition. Photo by sbstatesman.com

   In the recorded webcasts of the Board of Trustees meetings over Nov. 5 and 6, Trustee Cary Staller reads that this vote is for the “fifth and final year” of the plan, which will affect the 2015-2016 school year. As part of the plan, it is required that the SUNY Board vote on the tuition increase and, as the resolution reads, “make such adjustments as are deemed necessary, given the existing fiscal climate and other factors the board of trustees deems relevant.”

   The $300 increase brings the total tuition cost of SUNY schools to $6,470 per year, up a total of $1,500 in five years from $4,970 when the plan started. In the webcast of the meeting, most of the trustees voted in favor of the resolution, and thus the measure carries over. At the same meeting, the SUNY Board approved an operating budget request for 2015-2016 with a 17.5 percent increase.

   The spokesman for the University at Albany Karl Luntta wrote in an email that while UAlbany is aware that a tuition increase can impact students, “the impact can be mitigated” through this “rational tuition increase plan” that allows students and parents to plan. He also said that UAlbany is looking for other ways to raise funds besides tuition increases.

   SUNY spokesman David Doyle could not be reached for comments on the resolution, but he did tell the Poughkeepsie Journal that the combined extra aid will go towards salary increases and public community colleges “to bring state support per community college student towards pre-recession levels,” as well as to “increase research, increase access, grow Open SUNY and promote completion within the SUNY system.”

   Lauren Mannerberg, a sophomore at UAlbany, said that while she doesn’t want to pay more money, she understands why it’s needed.

   “With inflation and the way money’s working, we need to pay more,” she said. She also mentioned that as the state cuts its funding, SUNY schools have little choice of where to go for money.

   Amanda Case, a junior, said that, “Student debt is outrageous. But at the same time, if we don’t pay more money now, what is our future [education] going to look like? You have to sacrifice some things. It might actually help us in the long run.”

   When asked if they think that SUNY should enact another long-term tuition plan, both students said they would prefer that SUNY interact with the state legislature on a yearly basis instead.

   Trustee Joseph Belluck voted against the measure to raise tuition. During the Finance and Administration Committee Meeting, he stated his intention to vote against the increase “as I have with all the others.” He reminded his fellow trustees that while the state legislature had given them the power to increase tuition every year with this plan, “we’re not required to do that. We could easily not approve this one.” He goes on to talk about including more SUNY students in the conversation should another similar tuition-increase plan come about. He said that he had visited some student volunteers, and come to realize some important things about the financial straits of some SUNY students.

   “We’ve now learned that there are 20 plus SUNY campuses where kids are using food pantries to supplement their food. Even though the increases can seem marginal to us, given our station in life, they’re not insignificant to the students that attend our schools,” Trustee Belluck said.

   During the Finance and Administration Committee Meeting, Trustee Staller commented that, “It probably would be a good idea to try to attain another five year plan . . . We remember the days when we didn’t know what tuition was going to be. It was really hard to get a budget.”

   Associate Vice Chancellor for Government Relations Stacey Hengsterman said that, “Before the rational tuition plan came in . . . we had a very chaotic tuition schedule, tuition was very high. So when the governor came in to give us this plan, we have a sense of normalcy.” She also said that she believes that SUNY could “see a lot of support” from students to continue with similar plans.

   Trustee Staller also noted that of the $300 increases, “Twenty-five percent of this incremental amount gets plowed back into scholarships [at some campuses] . . . that’s a really good thing. It’s sort of like high-low pricing.”

   The SUNY spokesman, however, could not be reached to directly comment on the likelihood of similar plans being repeated in the future.

   Luntta said, “There’s no question that in order to best serve its students, researchers, and community, the University needs to increase its revenues.”

   State aid has been decreasing and is currently at 12 percent. He did say that UAlbany does not want to raise tuition unless it has to, so it is looking at other ways to get funding.

   “We’re raising more funds through our endowment, we’re competing for more research grants, we’re gathering support from the state through NYSUNY 2020, we’re developing new academic programs in high-growth, high-needs areas, and we’re designing the Emerging Technology and Entrepreneurship Complex (E-TEC), a research and development hub for entrepreneurs and emerging technologies,” he said.

   As of right now, the cost of attending UAlbany (without room and board) is $9,717 annually..

   On Dec. 12 in 2013, the SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher gave official testimony on how the NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program was working at that point in time. She said that, “Prior to 2011, were in a balancing act. When state support was reduced, tuition rates and revenue increased, over time shifting the primary responsibility of supporting SUNY onto students.” She said that before the act, SUNY was only allowed to raise tuition 13 times over the course of 48 years.

   “Seventeen times since 1963, a first-year student entered SUNY and during his or her college career never had to pay a tuition increase while others saw two or three increases.” This was dubbed “tuition roulette” by SUNY, that decided that this approach was illogical and in need of a change. Since the plan was enacted, the class of 2016 at UAlbany will have seen a tuition increase every year of their attendance.

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