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PAYING UP: SUNY system requests another tuition increase to start off 2017

Editor’s Note: On Tuesday, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his proposed plan to make tuition at any SUNY or CUNY school in New York free for those making less than $125,000 per year. Read more on that story here.

They don’t seem interested in taking ‘no’ for an answer.

Last year State University of New York officials asked for a $300 annual tuition increase, which was universally rejected.

Since 2011 annual tuition has increased by $1,500 — or 30 percent at SUNY schools, which has many students, parents, and educators alike asking themselves how another tuition increase could be feasible.

The New Ask from SUNY Schools

SUNY officials are now asking for a tiered plan, which would allow leaders of individual schools to increase their tuition based on a variety of factors.

The system would allow for four brackets of annual tuition increase. Those would range between $0 and $300 depending on metrics that the individual university would use to determine the necessity of an increase.

The four tiers of increases would be $0, $100, $200, and $300. SUNY presidents would recommend a tier based tuition increase based on their individual needs.

State officials have historically pushed back against any tiering, which some have called as a last-ditch effort to see an increase in tuition revenue.

SUNY officials say that a tuition increase allows the universities to better handle student’s needs — providing them a faster track through degree programs. The logic being that the shorter amount of time a student spends at any given university — the less money they will ultimately spend in tuition.

That’s why those SUNY officials say a tuition increase is necessary.

A variety of costs are making it difficult for SUNY to operate within a solid framework or budget. For example, officials cite the need for a ‘hold harmless’ funding model, according to the Buffalo News, which would prevent universities from being responsible for cost increases not directly within the line of campus control.

In other words, if something like a collective bargaining agreement were modified to cost SUNY schools more — then the cost should not come out of the individual budget of the university.

Opponents of that model note that if New York State adopted such a measure then it would open the door to greater cost for taxpayers down the road.

Underlying Problems in Higher Ed

Many are quick to point out that the rise in cost of a college education is making the education inaccessible to many. They also point out that the rise in cost does not correlate with the effectiveness, or job security that follows the acquisition of a college degree.

In many ways, universities are left dealing with economic issues that have been left untouched in the last two decades. A shrinking job market, combined with more competition for jobs makes a college education — especially in New York — less valuable than it was two decades ago.

These problems are exclusive to New Yorkers, though. In years past, many sought an education from a SUNY school as an affordable alternative to a private education. Now, those cheaper options are more popular than ever — with students pouring into two-year, community colleges at a higher rate.

Even if a $300 increase was awarded to SUNY schools unanimously, without any challenge — they would still be the most-affordable institutions of higher education in the state.

That said, the request for a tuition increase points to a troubling flaw in the system. Instead of working to mitigate the costs they experience — the automatic response has been to ask for more money. The 30 percent increase in annual tuition over the last five years is proof that tuition increase requests have been granted.

If SUNY schools can’t operate without a constant stream of annual tuition increases then it’s time for state officials to reevaluate the system as it exists today. Whether that be a modification to what is offered — eliminating costly, yet low-yield offerings — or by simply innovating to ensure that cost-effectiveness is maintained at SUNY schools.

A 30 percent increase in five years is understandable in dire economic circumstances — like those faced at the end of the last decade. However, the concept of ‘necessary’ tuition increases shouldn’t be acceptable to any SUNY official, or state representative.

The SUNY System still has a Salary Problem

It was reported in 2016 that SUNY employees made up a vast majority of those who made more than Gov. Andrew Cuomo. SUNY has built up an impressive resume in the medical world — through a variety of impressive facilities and research centers.

That said, it’s coming at great cost to New York State. SeeThroughNY.com accounts for New York’s payroll system each year. The SUNY system has for years handed over hundreds-of-thousands-of-dollars to officials who fulfill various management roles at these SUNY facilities around the New York.

It begs the question: How much of an impact does this have on tuition at SUNY facilities around the state?

It’s an abstract question that is difficult to answer, according to officials from individual universities. They do the best they can on what they feel is a limited budget — and yet — many of these large institutions are spending a surprising amount of money on individuals to innovate and lead these institutions.

When the Empire Center reported last year that 1,797 state employees made more than Gov. Cuomo — a vast majority of them coming from the SUNY program — it started an interesting debate about the cost of higher education.

It also framed the 30 percent increase in overall tuition since 2011 in an entirely different light. Now, the state is left having a debate about the financial stability of these very SUNY facilities.

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