Joseph Spector, Gannett Albany
ALBANY -- SUNY leaders said Wednesday they support a tuition freeze this fall. They just want more state aid to cover it.
SUNY said it needs $73 million from the state to make up the difference if it wants to freeze tuition for the 2016-17 school year, which starts in late August. The request comes as legislative leaders want to freeze SUNY tuition for two years after it rose $1,500, or 30 percent, since 2010 on the 29 four-year campuses.
Tuition was $6,470 a year for incoming freshmen last fall.
"We don’t want a tuition increase. So here’s what we’re proposing to the Legislature: They give us $73 million. With $73 million, there would be no tuition increase," said SUNY Board of Trustees chairman H. Carl McCall.
Lawmakers and Gov. Andrew Cuomo are negotiating a $145 billion budget for the fiscal year that starts April 1.
One of the sticking points is the 64-campus SUNY system. A SUNY 2020 plan expires March 31 that has allowed SUNY to independently raise tuition up to $300 a year for the last five years. Before, tuition increases rested with the Legislature, leading to sporadic hikes.
Lawmakers have balked at ongoing tuition increases, so SUNY vowed Wednesday that with more state aid they would freeze tuition for one year. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and McCall said they still want a five-year extension of SUNY 2020, but with the additional aid, they would agree to keep tuition flat.
"Education, educating more people is simply the best bet any society can make," Zimpher said.
Legislative leaders said they are negotiating SUNY's fate. But in preliminary negotiations Wednesday, lawmakers said $60 million in additional aid for higher education was allocated, and that included community colleges and New York City college system -- well below what SUNY leaders are seeking.
“As always, we want to be supportive of higher education," Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie, D-Bronx, said. "We support a tuition freeze, but we also want to make sure that SUNY and CUNY schools in New York have what they need to do what their mission is.”
SUNY’s annual budget is about $13 billion, and state aid covers about $3.6 billion of that. SUNY initially sought a $300 million increase in state aid, college officials said.
"Everyone, whether it’s SUNY or CUNY, we’re all sensitive to and cognizant of how important it is to mitigate whatever tuition increases are out there, if there are any at all," said Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan, R-Suffolk County.
SUNY is also asking for an increase in aid to 30 community colleges, who argued their state aid hasn't grown at the rate of inflation. Community colleges set their own tuition rates.
The New York Public Interest Research Group said 350 student groups and organizations have signed onto a letter to press for a state aid increase paired with a tuition freeze. Cuomo’s office said last month that state aid to SUNY and CUNY has increased by $1 billion since 2011: from $5.5 billion to $6.5 billion. He’s proposed another $400 million increase over the next five years.
“As New York has cut its investment in public higher education, students have been forced to pick up the tab," Alex Bornemisza, NYPIRG chairperson and a SUNY Buffalo State student, said in a statement.
Includes reporting by Albany Bureau staff writer Jon Campbell.