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NYSNYS NEWS: SUNY faculty and staff urge Cuomo to sign bill to stabilize state budget support for system.
NYSNYS News
NYSNYS NEWS: SUNY faculty and staff urge Cuomo to sign bill to stabilize state budget support for system.

By Kyle Hughes
NYSNYS News


ALBANY, N.Y. (July 22) With fall classes just a few weeks off, SUNY faculty and students held press conferences around the state Wednesday urging Gov. Andrew Cuomo to sign a bill to reverse the trend of students paying a bigger share of the system's basic operating costs.

They called for an end to the practice of using the new annual tuition hikes called "rational tuition" to pay for day-to-day expenses such as heat and utilities rather than academics.

At the Albany event, United University Professions president Frederick Kowal said the "maintenance of effort" bill legislators approved in June ensures adequate state funding for both SUNY and CUNY, the public college and university system in New York City. The bill has not yet been sent to Cuomo by the Legislature.

"Basically what the bill does is it re-establishes the commitment the state made that with a rational tuition plan put in place in 2011, every year tuition increases by an established amount (and) that the state would invest the equivalent amount of money so there would be a balance, a fair share on both sides," he said. "Well, the state has not kept its part of the bargain."

He said now "roughly 60 percent, 65 percent of the cost of SUNY education falls on SUNY tuition. You go back to 2008, students were paying roughly 40 percent of the cost, state dollars were the rest, until we flipped it in that short time. That's not how you maintain quality and accessibility, especially for students coming in facing potential debt."

In a bill memo, SUNY said they will "ensure that all costs associated with the State University Health Science Centers, collective bargaining, utility, rentals and other inflationary costs are funded by state tax dollars in the annual budget submission of the governor."

Both CUNY and SUNY administrators said portion of the tuition revenue have had to be applied to ongoing operational and mandatory costs.

Kowal said the bill is an opportunity to "re-establish SUNY as really one of the hallmark higher education institutions in the country." It will also go against a national trend that is seeing states like California and Wisconsin shift college costs from taxpayers to students.

The state has spent years shifting budget costs as expenses rises, while revenues are constrained and entrenched special interests make it almost impossible to change the status quo on many state budget programs. In the 1980s, the state paid about 90 percent of the cost of SUNY operations.

As recently as 2007, the state contributed $1.32 billion to SUNY, UUP said. That total is now down to $950 million. As the same time, revenue from student tuitions and fees has risen from $915 million to $1.71 billion.

At CUNY, the 2015-16 state budget leaves the system with $63 million in unfunded mandatory costs like supplies and equipments, rent, energy and employee contracts, the UUP affiliate Professional Staff Congress said. UUP and PSC are unions representing staff and faculty at the state run campuses.

The SUNY 2020 legislation that created rational tuition permitted a $1,500 tuition hike over five years, with the four SUNY university centers at Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo and Stony Brook permitted to hike their charges by an additional 3 percent annually.

SUNY Buffalo State student Alex Bornemisza, who is also chair of the NYPIRG Board of Directors, said the state has not met its promises of support.

"So now students are paying for more who are not necessarily seeing the increase in programs within schools," he said. "We're not necessarily seeing an increase in staff. We're just paying for a lot of the status quo as it is, which was not part of a the deal originally."

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