350 student groups join coalition against SUNY tuition increases



Over 350 student groups at New York’s public colleges are voicing their opposition to an extension of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “rational tuition” legislation, and are calling for a freeze on SUNY and CUNY tuition rates to keep it at the 2016 academic year’s rate.

The SUNY 2020 legislation, signed into law in 2011, allows SUNY and CUNY to raise tuition by $300 every year over the course of five years.

The New York State Public Interest Research Group  helped bring together 350 student groups to form a coalition against the legislation, including student government organizations, clubs, fraternities and sororities. The group says the tuition increases are unfair considering that state funding for SUNY and CUNY has generally remained flat. The group supports the Assembly and Senate budget proposals which call for a tuition freeze, stable funding for SUNY and CUNY, and reversing Cuomo’s proposed $485 million cuts to CUNY in the Executive Budget.

Cuomo’s tuition plan received support from the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit organization devoted to improving New York state’s finances and services. The group released a report which states, “Extending the SUNY 2020 and CUNY 2020 programs for five years would extend tuition predictability and the state’s requirement to maintain public support, while maintaining New York’s competitive position. Failure to do so creates the possibility that SUNY and CUNY students could again be exposed to irrational and unpredictable tuition fluctuations, harming students, SUNY and CUNY.”

SUNY 2020 is touted as a solution to unpredictable changes in tuition by Albany politicians, who could previously change the tuition whenever they needed to make up for budget shortfalls.

Students aren’t buying it. In December, student groups delivered nearly 28,000 petition signatures to Albany asking lawmakers for a freeze in tuition rates.

On March 4, students from 10 SUNY schools walked out of their classes to protest the renewal of so-called rational tuition legislation.

“These increases are not necessary,” said Nicole Striffolino, an organizer for New York Students Rising and student at SUNY New Paltz. “They are convenient to the state, as it is a way for them to cut funding and instead put the burden onto students.”

According to a report from the Fiscal Policy Institute, state support for SUNY has declined by almost 36 percent since the 2007-2008 school year after adjusting for inflation. State support increased for CUNY over the same period, but enrollment increased even more, meaning there is lower state funding per student after accounting for inflation.

Despite a drop off in public funding, tuition has increased by about 30 percent since 2010, reaching $6,470 per year for New York state residents attending four-year schools on average.

“Even with the budget deadline a few days away, it’s not too late for Gov. Cuomo and the state legislators to turn the tide of austerity currently sweeping the nation and drowning students in debt and tuition hikes,” said University Student senate chairperson and Brooklyn College graduate student Joseph Awadjie.

NYPIRG says national student loan debt is currently $1.3 trillion and is estimated to be $2 trillion by 2025. Researchers at StartClass, an education data website estimate that nationwide student loan debt rises at about $2,726.27 per second.

The State University Board of Trustees said they are willing to freeze tuition only if the State University system receives more money in the upcoming April 1 state budget. SUNY said it would need $73 million in direct state aid from the Legislature in order to stop tuition hikes.

“We’ve heard from the members of the senate,” SUNY Board Chairman Carl McCall said during a press conference in Albany last week. “We’ve heard from the members of the assembly. They do not want to see a tuition increase.”