NY lawmakers concerned about college tuition

ALBANY -- State lawmakers on Wednesday raised concerns about the growing cost of college in New York as SUNY seeks tuition increases next year.

Earlier this week, SUNY outlined a four-year plan that would let its 29 four-year colleges raise tuition annually by between $100 to $300.

Assembly members didn't focus questions to SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher about the proposal at a hearing Wednesday, but did take aim at the overall cost of college.

SUNY tuition increased annually by $300 between 2011 and 2015 -- a $1,500 hike, or 30 percent. The state Legislature rejected another round of increases this year; Tuition is $6,470 at the four-year colleges.

"The amount of loan debt students are going out from a public university is still a pretty shocking number, and to me an unacceptable number," Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton, D-Ithaca, said at the hearing.

Zimpher testified SUNY has tried to curb costs and encourage students to graduate within four years, if not earlier, to limit expenses.

"We at SUNY are proud of the work we are doing every day to deliver on our promise of providing high-quality, affordable education to every single New Yorker," she testified.

She acknowledged the total cost of a SUNY education, including room and board, has increased 35 percent over the past eight years, from $17,880 to $24,201.

But Zimpher added 58 percent of undergraduates receive tuition assistance from the state, and 67 percent of those get the full amount each year: $5,165.

So she contended that between 2008 to 2013, the actual cost to attend SUNY rose on average by only $1,714 when all the various state, federal and college-specific grants and scholarships were included.

The average debt load is $25,250 for a SUNY graduate, Zimpher said.

"And more than 40 percent of SUNY graduates carry no loan debt at all," Zimpher continued.

Zimpher told reporters after her testimony that the proposed tuition increases would be determined by each campus and approved by the SUNY Board of Trustees. Community colleges already set their own tuition.

She said the 64-campus system tries to balance the need for increased state aid with seeking tuition increases.

SUNY is asking for an 11 percent increase in state aid.

SUNY's budget request will be sent to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who will release his proposed budget in January for the fiscal year that starts April 1.

Lawmakers have been leery of raising tuition after the five years of increases, and they have also opposed giving SUNY autonomy to raise tuition without legislative approval.

Assembly Higher Education Committee chairwoman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan, pointed to a state report in September that showed student loan debt has doubled in New York over the last decade.

"It is in the interest of the state that we see that the students are not burdened," Glick said, "but that we also see that the institutions are able to maintain their facilities and remain the anchors they have been in the communities in which they exist."


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