A raid on SUNY students


Our opinion: Frozen state support for SUNY means tuition is paying for more of the tab. SUNY can’t continue to depend on students and families for all its rising costs.


—New York promised four years ago to end its long and shameful practice of hiking tuition at the State University of New York only to grab the extra money for itself. But it has broken that promise – just slowly enough for many people not to notice.


It has done it by raising tuitions while keeping aid to higher education all but flat, a strategy that is steadily pushing an ever-rising share of SUNY’s cost onto students and families and stunting the growth of an institution essential to New York’s future. As Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers craft the 2015-16 state budget, they must abandon this shortsighted tactic.


… But SUNY’s capital needs – which the university system says are more like $600 million – are only part of the picture. A university doesn’t run day-to-day on ribbon cuttings. It needs operating funds.


SUNY does have more operating money these days, but thanks mostly to a “rational tuition plan” Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature created in 2011. The plan, which called for raising tuition $300 a year over five years, has one year left. SUNY hopes to renew the program.


And that might be a good idea, if not for the fact that rising tuition has let New York skate on its commitment to SUNY. State support for SUNY’s operations has been all but flat since tuitions started rising, shifting more of the burden onto students. Where the state, prior to the 2008 recession, covered almost half of SUNY’s budget, it now contributes less than 30 percent, with tuition covering more than 70 percent.


It’s not just the university centers and SUNY colleges that are seeing this trend; state support for community colleges has also stalled, and the students’ share has risen.


This slow erosion of the state’s contribution to SUNY’s total costs is what New York passes off as a “maintenance of effort.”


In reality, it’s a freeze that leaves students paying for all of SUNY’s increasing costs, including, over the last three years, more than $130 million in salary increases negotiated by the Cuomo administration.


Something has to give, and it can’t continue to be students and parents. Mr. Cuomo and the Legislature can’t boast of tax cuts and fiscal discipline while they’re using tuition increases to balance the state’s own books.


Surely there’s a higher bar here than simply not stealing money from SUNY. And surely there’s a better way than raiding the wallets of middle and working class families who look to SUNY for an affordable education.