Dated: December 1, 2010

SUNY New Paltz students have differing views on a budget plan to raise tuition in small increments as well as differentiating tuition rates for campus and research programs. The plan called, The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act, plans to increase jobs and predict how much tuition will be raised each year.

Claire Dellarocco, 21, a senior from Albany said, “I am for it because it would be easier for students and there would be more benefits that come out of it. It will be a good way of knowing how much you’re going to pay for tuition each year.”

Andy Moeller, 19, a visual arts sophomore from Manorville, disagreed.

“It could help but it’s a bit vague and ambitions for funding will go over their head,” he said.

Moeller also feels that PHEEIA would cut off students and parents who currently and barely afford college. “It will eliminate a lot of the normal student body,” he said.

A special education teacher’s assistant and SUNY parent had mixed views. Sylvia R., 54, from Queens stated the idea for PHEEIA “sounds good on paper.” However, she added one of the reasons why people went to SUNY colleges was because it was affordable. R. said, with a highly competitive academic environment and the financial hardships that young people face, PHEEIA should guarantee that students won’t be stuck in debt after graduation. R. also proposed an idea to make vouchers for expensive books.  “That is one of the reasons why I couldn’t stay at college,” she said.

For the first six months of the year, the N.Y. state government legislature was on call 24 hours a day and seven days a week. The legislature met three days a week and left room for lobbyist on the discussion of the state’s budget and PHEEIA.

In Jan., Gov. David A. Paterson to, among other things, unveiled PHEEIA to institute a tuition policy that would make the cost of public higher education more predictable for students and families, allowing them to better plan for the future, he said.

The proposal would give the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY) the power to control tuition, lease land, and differentiate prices of campuses and programs with less state regulations or legislation. The act would give college presidents greater funding for private partnerships and tuition.

The Budget proposal was not debated until August with which PHEEIA was left out. A few months later, Senator William Stachowski from Buffalo, a supporter of PHEEIA, urged that it would be re-discussed with the state legislature.

On Sept. 9, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt (D-Buffalo, Grand Island) sent a letter to Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver urging him to take up the issue of SUNY empowerment during a potential special session this fall or at the next opportunity the Assembly is in session. At the end of the legislative session, Senators John L. Sampson and Stachowski announced that the governor, assembly and senate had agreed upon a framework for PHEEIA.

Hoyt said the Legislature should quickly act upon PHEEIA because it has the potential for job creation, and the ability to turn the University of Buffalo into a leading research-based institution that will draw in thousands of students to Buffalo’s downtown and attract new businesses from around the world. PHEEIA would also help UB expand its medical campus, Hoyt said.

According to Hoyt, “The SUNY Empowerment legislation would give UB the tools it needs to continue to offer a quality, affordable education to students as the state decreases its financial commitment. At the same time, the university would also be given the tools needed to strengthen and grow.”

Hoyt wrote to Silver, “I am confident that the legislative framework you and the other leaders agreed to will address the concerns of all parties and pass both houses so that the governor may sign it.”

Currently, SUNY and CUNY are financed through the general funds controlled by the state legislature. This has traditionally resulted in a long period of flat tuition rates followed by sharp increases in tuition during recessions when families can least afford it. This act would allow the SUNY and CUNY schools to raise tuition at smaller rates, but on a more regular basis. The current system has students either receiving their degree without experiencing a tuition increase when the rates go high.

As of now, SUNY and CUNY campuses are behind every other state in the northeast region in tuition rates and annual rate of growth. In 2008-09 academic years, the average tuition and fees at SUNY’s university research centers was $6,053 or 55 percent of the average non-New York tuition which was $10,904. The main reason for SUNY’s low tuition is because all the other non-state schools differentiate their tuition rates between their public research facilities and campuses.

Tuition rates for campuses and programs will be changed. This act would also allow SUNY and CUNY to receive and disburse revenues from tuition and self-supporting activities without an appropriation. Since SUNY and CUNY will have more responsibility, it will also ensure continued transparency and accountability.

The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act has received support from the SUNY Student Assembly, university administrators, the SUNY Faculty Senate, and business leaders as well as SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher. The Student Assembly requested that the state pass tuition increases cap at 1.5 times the five-year rolling average of the Higher Education Price Index (HEPI), or six percent of current tuition as well as to cap the amount that the SUNY Board of Trustees can charge for differential tuition.

President of the Student Assembly, Melody Mercedes said, “We will now throw our entire support behind the bill and will work hard to ensure that it passes.”

Zimpher said, “The Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act puts students at the center and enables the State University to provide them with the access and affordability for quality education that they deserve.”

R. stated another plan. “I would have supported a bill that would have kept the cost of SUNY tuition low for the residents of N.Y. and increased it for those outside of the state,” she said.

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