SUNY seeks autonomy for tuition hikes

ALBANY -- SUNY leaders on Wednesday said they will ask the state Legislature and Gov. Andrew Cuomo for an increase in state aid and the power to set tuition increases without lawmakers' approval.

The board for the 64-campus system is trying to regroup after the Legislature in March rejected SUNY's plea for another potential round of tuition increases.

Not only didn't SUNY get the tuition increase, it was also given less state aid than it sought. And lawmakers reiterated Wednesday they have no interest in giving SUNY tuition autonomy.


At its board meeting Wednesday, the SUNY Board of Trustees discussed how to lobby the governor and Legislature next year.

The board expects to propose its budget for the 2017-18 to the governor later this month.

Uncertain times


How much money the system ultimately gets this March would determine whether SUNY would again seek legislative approval for a tuition increase, college officials said.

"We’d prefer to have state aid, but to the extent that the state aid we get doesn’t meet all of our needs, then we would want to consider a tuition increase," SUNY board chairman H. Carl McCall told the USA Today Network's Albany Bureau on Wednesday.

"Our hope is that we get enough state aid so we don’t have to continue to ask students to make a greater contribution."


Lawmakers showed no appetite for another round of tuition increases this year after they and Cuomo authorized SUNY in 2011 to increase rates by up to $300 a year for five years.

SUNY increased tuition to the maximum each year -- which ended up being a $1,500 increase, or 30 percent, since 2010 on the four-year campuses.

So tuition was $6,470 a year for incoming freshmen this fall after the Legislature agreed in March to freeze it.
Total cost for SUNY tuition, room and board increased from an average of $13,275 in the 2005-06 school year to $20,549 in 2014-15 school year, a state report in September said.

Lawmakers' opposition

Now SUNY officials are back to the drawing board, saying its so-called SUNY 2020 plan that allowed for the $300-a-year increase was working and that state aid has lagged.

At the board meeting, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher called SUNY 2020 "singularly one of the best and most innovative policies in the country."

"This NYSUNY 2020 is an amazing example of policy that stabilizes the context for public higher education in New York," she said.

But on Wednesday, the heads of the Legislature's higher education committees balked at giving SUNY the authority to set its own tuition, saying their colleagues would also likely not support the request.

"The Legislature is very sensitive to increasing the burden on students, and they feel that SUNY and CUNY would be overly aggressive in raising tuition," Senate Higher Education Committee chairman Kenneth LaValle, R-Suffolk County, said.

"At this time, we don’t feel it’s a good thing."

LaValle and Assembly Higher Education Committee chairman Deborah Glick, D-Manhattan, said SUNY has bought similar autonomy in the past, and it was rejected by lawmakers.

They both urged Cuomo to increase aid to the largest public-university system in the nation.

Glick said the state should commit a specific amount of aid to SUNY so it can have predictability in its revenue.
As for supporting tuition increases, Glick said: "I think that's a question best left until we see what the executive budget looks like."

More state aid

Cuomo will present his 2017-18 budget in mid January for the fiscal year that starts April 1.

McCall, the former state comptroller, recognized that lawmakers have rejected efforts by SUNY to set its own tuition rates.

But he said SUNY needs the ability to adjust its tuition based on state aid and economic factors.

Board members talked Wednesday about potentially having the flexibility to raise tuition by campus rather than as an entire system. Community colleges set their own tuition.

"We want to the ability to do it so once we see what our overall resources are and what additional needs we might have," McCall said.

The state, meanwhile, disputed SUNY's contention that it's not offering adequate aid to the system, saying it has increased SUNY spending by more than $630 million since Cuomo took office in 2011, up 17 percent.

“SUNY is being disingenuous by failing to recognize major categories of state support that have increased each year," Morris Peters, a spokesman for the state Budget Division, said.

"Their facilities are built by the state, their faculty’s health and retirement benefits are paid for by the state, as is financial aid for their students. It’s unfortunate that their presentation left out such big slices of the pie.”


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