By Najib Aminy
For the first time in its history, the SUNY Student Assembly voted in support of an increased tuition to alleviate the ongoing budget crisis plaguing New York State and SUNY. Under the supported plan, tuition would increase every year in proportion to the monetary state of each university, allowing students to predict their financial situation. However, under this plan, students are left vulnerable to an additional hike, due in part to unforeseen circumstances, surmounting additional money to the proposed rational plan. Representing the 427,000 students enrolled in SUNY in both the national and state level, the Student Assembly voted, 50-10, in favor of a rational tuition hike leaving many students scratching their heads.
“Obviously they are not paying their own tuition,” said Jill Craver, a Stony Brook junior, who feels misrepresented. “They could have more dialogue between the students, I feel this will become a financial strain for many people.”
Junior Alyson Schwartz said that any tuition hike at all is unfair to anyone without student loans. “If anything, New York State should increase the amount they give on financial aid.” Junior Danny DeVita works two jobs to pay off his school tuition and when hearing about the SA’s recent vote, he was not happy about it. Feeling that he was never asked about the issue, DeVita said, “I wished they consulted with students more before making their decision.”
“I think it is bullshit, the students in the SA are idiots,” said Michael Dischley, a sophomore from SUNY Geneseo. Dischley said the most attractive thing about SUNY is that it is cheap and affordable. “If you increase the price it becomes less appealing,” said Dischley. On the other hand, Ryan Micelli, a junior at SUNY Binghamton, said he thinks the SA’s decision is for the best. “SUNY still is pretty cheap, my brother goes to Cornell and it is really expensive, but it’s practically like getting the same education.” An optimistic Vincent Lancia, a sophomore at SUNY Albany, sees the rational tuition plan as unfair for students in need of financial aid. “A lot of kids that go to SUNY come based on the financial aid and grants, and to boost tuition would place economic strain on them,” said Lancia. Though a bit optimistic, Lancia sees a hike as a long term answer to a short term problem.
An undergraduate himself here at Stony Brook, Treasurer of the Student Assembly Joe Antonelli was amongst the fifty voting in favor of the rational tuition hike. “Costs go up—there really is no other justification. Just like the cost of groceries go up each year, just like the cost of buying a car goes up each year, so to does the cost of running a University,” said Antonelli. With the SUNY experiencing two significant cuts and looking to face another after November 18, when Governor Paterson convenes with the legislature, Antonelli says that a “rational plan would not be effective, but it would be the solution.” According to Antonelli, the plan that the SUNY SA voted on would have students paying the same percent it costs for their university to run, whether an increase or decrease in the amount. For example, if operations to run Stony Brook increased five percent, students would pay five percent, if operations decreased to run Stony Brook by five percent, students would pay a tuition five percent less than what they originally had.
Voting against the rational hike, Lynne Radle, an Undergrad at SUNY Buffalo, said that the “elected delegates didn’t even consider their constituents. Very few people asked members of their campus how they felt, and the ones who did got a resounding ‘no tuition hikes!’” Radle said that there were no other alternative plans proposed at the table. Rational tuition was proposed to the SUNY delegates, according to Radle, as a decision between whether they were in favor of a 30 percent increase or a three percent increase.
With the absence of a binding legislation, a rational tuition plan could be scrapped as soon as next year or the year after under a new and different legislature. “I believe it is based on false hope, and would rather stand behind a strong message like adequately funding SUNY,” said Radle.
With Governor Paterson projecting a $2.5 billion shortfall in the 2008-09 fiscal year, ending March 31, cuts to SUNY are being forecasted as Deans are preparing “for the worst case scenario,” according to Dan Meluci, Associate Vice President for Strategy and Analysis. With unemployment problems, debt related issues, and mortgage situations, Melucci says it “is going to be very difficult for the legislature to impose a 20 percent increase on students in this state,” but has not ruled it out as an option. Though in support of a rational plan, during his thirty-five years at Stony Brook Melucci has never experienced a rational tuition hike and sees some downfall to the plan. “In difficult budgetary times, the legislature may see SUNY getting a tuition increase so they cut SUNY’s state side budget. All you would be doing would be shifting the burden from tax payers to families, and SUNY would get no more money.” Melucci feels that entrusting more power within the Board of Trustees would be an alternative route to travel disembarking from the political atmosphere involved in SUNY higher education. In terms of Stony Brook going private, Melucci immediately responded, “not going to happen. The state is really valuable They pay all the debt services on our buildings, all the fringe benefits on state employees, that’s huge amount of money, we can’t give that up.”
With a history of SUNY raising tuition by a significant percent in blocks of time, it has become difficult for students and their families to predict how to pay for their education. It doesn’t help that the New York State economy runs on 20 percent of Wall Streets fortunes, and more recently, mishaps. Stony Brook Provost Eric Kaler added that the plan voted by the SA is “a very realistic interpretation of the current situation. I think it is unrealistic to look at today’s economy and expect somehow the state will provide the money needed to run the university without students to take on the larger share.” The University runs on income provided by state aid and tuition. According to Kaler, if state aid continues to dwindle and tuition is unchanged, the lack of cash flow into the University will stall and deter the quality and goals of the University. Provost Kaler asked for students to be patient and aware of their schedules and course offerings and make it sufficient to the progress of their own degree. Though optimistic, Kaler knows little of what will happen in the near future. “Like the rest of the nation we are facing an unprecedented economic change. We are trying to plan on minimal information, which changes very rapidly.”
Whether or not rational tuition policy gets voted on by the New York Legislature, the biggest flaw to this policy is its precedent. According to Andrew Morrison, regional director of the New York Public Interest Group, by supporting a rational tuition policy, one is opening the door to rational increases as well as continued susceptibility to 20 to 30 percent increases, as Stony Brook has experienced in the past. “This happens because you can’t hold a legislature to this policy and you won’t know what will happen in the near future,” said Morrison, adding, “its based on an empty promise.” Morrison said, “rather than taking the SA’s stance and say that students are willing to do their part for NYS, that state should be doing everything in its power to do what is right for its students.” Morrison views the cause of this problem in looking at the SUNY institution as a business. “Students are not meant to be consumers of education as if NYS is offering them a service, it is students who are doing NYS the service,” said Morrison.
Due to the current economic state, Antonelli said that it would be infeasible to keep tuition the same. “The mere thought of that was not even on the table for SUNY, and it would have proven ignorant for us to continue insisting that SUNY quality could remain the same as costs rise while keeping our tuition static.” With the significant majority, Antonelli said that “SUNY students have never been more united on the cost of their education.” Expressing her concern over the SA’s decision, Radle said, “It is really hard to hear support for tuition increases from adults, but from students? That’s a shame.”