ALBANY – If you're not getting free SUNY tuition this fall, you will be paying more.
The state University of New York this week quietly voted to raise tuition by $200 on students who are not eligible for the free tuition program, called the Excelsior Scholarship, that Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state Legislature instituted in April for households who earn less than $100,000 a year.
So for those students whose household income is more than $100,000 and who attend four-year colleges, their tuition will grow from $6,470 to $6,670 this fall, a 3 percent increase. The state's community colleges set their own tuition.
SUNY officials said the higher tuition is needed to pay for courses as costs rise.
"This will require additional funding at many campuses, and the only way to secure such funding is through tuition," Cary Staller, a SUNY Board of Trustees member, said a committee meeting June 13 when the measure was discussed.
The full SUNY board voted in favor of the tuition increase at its board meeting Wednesday afternoon.
Some lawmakers were critical of the move, saying SUNY should be more cognizant of the growing cost of college -- particularly as some students will get tuition for free.
"It’s extremely poor timing," Assembly Minority Leader Brian Kolb, R-Canandaigua, Ontario County, said. "There has been no movement, I can tell, to reduce costs at SUNY campuses. A tuition increase in our world is a tax increase."
The state is accepting applications for free tuition through July 21.
To be eligible, a student has to go full-time, get good grades and meet the income limits. The income threshold will grow to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019.
Students will also have to stay in the state for four years after college to retain the free tuition, or they would have to pay it back interest free. But the state is offering a waiver so students may be able to keep the scholarship if they move to another state for work.
The law that created the program included a provision that lets SUNY raise tuition up to $200 a year -- so they approved the maximum amount.
Increasing SUNY tuition has been a controversial issue for decades. The state Legislature has control over SUNY tuition, and lawmakers would let the colleges increase it sporadically.
In 2011, the Legislature and Cuomo agreed to SUNY 2020 -- which let the university system raise tuition by up to $300 a year for five years. So SUNY increased it the maximum amount each year -- by $1,500 or by 30 percent over the five years.
Another round of increases is needed, SUNY officials said, as it deals with higher costs -- particularly a looming union contract with its workers that could increase expenses by about $60 million a year.
The tuition increase will bring in about $18 million a year, college officials said, adding that public college in New York is still affordable and less than the national average.
"They are making difficult cuts," Staller said of the colleges. "It’s not like they are on holiday because tuition is going up by $200."
But Marc Cohen, the president of the SUNY Student Assembly, raised concerns to the SUNY board about increasing tuition, saying that going to the $200 maximum will upset students and lawmakers.
"By doing this, we’re just affirming their concerns," Cohen said at the June 13 meeting, "and I think it’s going to be seen as irresponsible, and I think we’re going to upset a lot of legislators. I know we’re going to be upsetting a lot of students."