After a year of flat tuition at State University of New York colleges, SUNY campuses will have the option to raise tuition as much as $300 each of the next four years under a proposal approved by the SUNY Trustees on Wednesday.
The different four-year college presidents could choose to be in one of four tuition “buckets” – raise tuition $100, $200, $300 or no increase at all, under the proposal, which is part of the SUNY legislative budget request. The “bucket” requests could be changed year to year, and final tuition rates would ultimately be set by the SUNY Trustees. The tuition plan applies to resident students only.
The proposal comes a year after lawmakers rejected the SUNY’s request to extend its authority to implement “rational” tuition increases of up to $300, leaving tuition at the state colleges and universities flat for this school year.
Trustees said the proposal gave schools the flexibility to adopt tuition rates that meet their specific needs, and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher defended the proposal as a policy that gave students and their families predictability over costs and capped potential tuition increases.
“This idea that we would have a where the Board of Trustees set tuition that is predictable and affordable – that’s what we are asking for,” Zimpher told reporters after she testified before the state Assembly Committee on Higher Education earlier in the day.
But SUNY Student Assembly President Marc Cohen, a graduate student at University at Albany, said students were already shouldering a too-high tuition burden and refused to support the tuition “bucket” plan approved by the Board of Trustees, a board he serves on.
“I’m not convinced that students’ interests are at heart right now,” Cohen said, while conceding he wouldn’t support any tuition increase. “Saying ‘raise tuition’ and ‘students accepting it’ is never going to be in our vocabulary; we appreciate that over the last five years with the tuition increases, we have seen hundreds of new programs ... we don’t appreciate a systematic increase in tuition to maintain those benefits. That’s not acceptable.”
At UAlbany, for example, a $300 tuition increase would be a little over 4 percent of the current annual tuition of $6,470 for a full-time student. After fees, food and housing are factored in, total costs at UAlbany top $20,000.
While Zimpher pointed to an average debt burden of $25,250 for graduates as stacking up well against comparable public colleges across the country – 40 percent of SUNY graduates leave school with not loan debt at all – Cohen said an average debt that high at a “public institution is deplorable.”
At the legislative hearing, Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, also emphasized the “public” status of SUNY schools in considering the overall debt burden for students.
“The amount of loan debt that students are going out with, from a public university, is pretty shocking,” she said.
The SUNY proposal approved Wednesday also included a total budget request of $85.8 million in state aid and an ask to be insulated from increases that results from ongoing collective bargaining negotiation, which could increase costs to campuses by as much as $60 million.
At the legislative hearing, Zimpher talked about expanding programs across the system that use analytics to identify where students hit road blocks, accelerate math remediation, and re-enroll students that had left school within finishing all of their coursework.
She also emphasized the importance – as it relates to college affordability – of ensuring that students are given the best shot possible at graduating in four years. She said tuition increases in the $100 to $300 range pale in comparison to the cost of an extra year or two of school.
“We can’t afford to just talk about access. We have to make sure we are supporting students through completion, because we know that helping students finish on time is one of the surest ways to diminish student debt,” Zimpher told the committee.
Reach Gazette reporter Zachary Matson at 395-3120, firstname.lastname@example.org or @zacharydmatson on Twitter.