Governor Cuomo and State University of New York Chancellor Zimpher have proposed a bill that would increase both our tuition and the quality of our education. But the omission of a key provision—one that guarantees any funds accrued from an increase in tuition shall remain at each respective university—is enough cause for concern for me to oppose passage of the current bill.
NYSUNY 2020 is a well intentioned and potentially successful plan for returning much needed money to our campuses. But without a guarantee that the money would stay in SUNY and at individual campuses, the effects of this bill could be disastrous.
Speaker Sheldon Silver has shown leadership on the issue by indicating that his support of the bill is conditional on keeping the money in the SUNY system. Our own President Stanley has correctly stated that NYSUNY 2020’s success depends on an end to the devastating budget cuts that SUNY has suffered from for years.
While Cuomo has promised that SUNY will keep the money, I don’t think a promise is enough. Cuomo only represents one branch of government, and he won’t even be in office by the time NYSUNY 2020 concludes if he fails to win re-election.
I also feel as though this bill fundamentally misses the point of what a public university’s purpose is. Much of Stony Brook’s proposal focuses on construction jobs and building new facilities, rather than rebuilding our damaged education programs.
Allowing a construction worker to feed his or her family for the next three years is the great thing to do, especially because that will in turn allow professors and students alike to research cancer here for years to come.
But public universities don’t exist as a means of creating jobs. Nor do they exist as an easy place to save tax dollars during a financial crisis. SUNY was originally created to provide a free education to the residents of New York.
While free may no longer be feasible, keeping education accessible to the middle and lower classes should always be a priority for SUNY and policy makers.
While NYSUNY 2020 appears to achieve that goal in principle, it may not do so in practice. At Stony Brook, up to 35% of the funds would be used to provide financial assistance to families that make less than $75,000. This stipulation would be in place for at least the next five years. While $75,000 may no longer be the cut off by then, we feel as though the 35% should remain, but as set percentage rather than as a maximum for how much financial aid students would receive.
Also, continued budget cuts would negate the numerous positive effects of the plan and would in effect disproportionately tax the attendees of SUNY colleges. On its own, an annual 8% tuition increase can be seen as an investment in our education and the future of our schools. If NYSUNY 2020 is coupled with budget cuts, something which it does not defend against, it will instead be seen as a dramatic step towards privatization and a tax on public education.
Trevor Christian is Managing Editor of THiNK.