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Cuomo introduces "rational tuition" bill

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Governor Cuomo has introduced a bill to raise tuition at state colleges by up to five percent per year and university centers by eight percent. SUNY and many business leaders are heralding the proposal. Karen DeWitt reports.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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Governor Cuomo has made clear for some time that he recommends raising tuition at SUNY schools, backing a plan called “rational tuition” that he says will take the increases out of the political arena.

“A rational tuition that you have a limit, that you have cap, so it’s not that every school can do what it wants to do," Cuomo said. “That makes a tremendous amount of sense to me.”

The bill introduced by Cuomo would permit all campuses to raise tuition by up to five percent each year for the next five years. The four university centers in Buffalo, Binghamton, Albany and Stony Brook, would be permitted to raise their tuition up to eight percent a year, provided they win state government grants for economic development worth $140 million that are part of the governor’s proposed SUNY 2020 plan. 

Students who are eligible for the Tuition Assistance Plan, or TAP, would not be subject to the tuition increases, and any university center that opts for the eight percent per year tuition increase would have to provide additional financial aid plans for students. The SUNY Board of Trustees would also be required to set up a revolving loan plan to offer low interest loans to students.

The news was greeted with pleasure by the Presidents of the SUNY campuses, many of whom offered positive quotes for the press release announcement.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, said the tuition hikes will “allow SUNY to flourish” and provide funds for teachers, classrooms and other resources needed for students to complete their degrees on time.

Zimpher has been an advocate of rational tuition ever since she assumed her post more than two years ago.

“Our growth strategy depends on rational tution,” Zimpher said at a recent rally.

The tuition increases are backed by the student elected Student Assembly, but not all students are pleased.  Some have come to the Capitol to protest the proposal, including Angelika Clark, who attends SUNY Albany.

“I don’t think it’s fair,” Clark said.

Legislative Leaders have offered conditional support for the tuition increase, provided there are guarantees that the funds from the increases won’t be swept by state budget officials to close deficits, as has been done in the past.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver spoke after a news conference where one of the university centers, Stony Brook, presented it’s pitch to win the state grant money. “We’re not going to balance the state budget on the backs of students,” Silver said. “And that’s what’s been happening.”

Senate Leader Dean Skelos offered the same cautions: "There shouldn’t be any more sweeps."

Cuomo’s plan does not include what’s known as a maintenance of effort guarantee, promising that any monies raised from the tuition hikes would not be raided to balance state budgets.

The Assembly has released a bill that would permit smaller tuition increases at both SUNY and the City University of New York. Cuomo’s bill does not include CUNY.

Under the existing system, the legislature has the power to grant or deny tuition hikes. Often years go by while tuition remains static, then, during a budget crisis, tuition is hiked dramatically, by as much as 40 percent. Cuomo’s plan would take that authority away from the legislature and put the yearly tuition increases into law, at least for the next five years.

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