President Samuel L. Stanley had a lot to say at his University Senate address on October 5. In it, he outlined his vision for Stony Brook’s future, based on the observations he’s made during his first 90 days as University President. Most of Stony Brook’s woes revolve around one central problem: a debilitating lack of support from the state. The disproportionate faculty-to-student ratio, the appallingly underfunded graduate students and the student and faculty housing troubles, which were mentioned during the address, have remained problems due to recent devastating SUNY-wide budget shortfalls. According to Stanley, Stony Brook is still dealing with $13 million of the $28 million cut, and with Governor Paterson’s recent attempt to further cut SUNY by another $90 million this fiscal year, the situation is a dire one.
In order to offset these shortfalls and mitigate the damage, Stanley has investigated other revenue streams. At the top of his list is a piece of legislation that would allow the six major SUNY universities, including Stony Brook, to raise undergraduate tuition independently. With the approval of the SUNY Board of Trustees, each of the six campuses could increase tuition up to a certain amount, all of which would be used by that campus. Stanley claimed that a proportionate amount would be rolled back into financial aid for the disadvantaged students who would be most affected. Also, the legislation would push the hand of state legislation to proportionally increase its financial aid to the disadvantaged students. “[This would be] holding disadvantaged students harmless,” said Stanley, who claimed that the tuition hike would be used to increase faculty and graduate support.
This isn’t a done deal, though; the legislature hasn’t met about this yet. In addition, the legislation has not met with the wide support that Stanley anticipated. In his address, Stanley was surprised that there was opposition to it. The New York Public Interest Research Group has been involved with the SUNY system for decades, and is one organization that has expressed deep concern over this.
NYPIRG has been against similar legislation in the past, when it was called differential tuition. One of the reasons for this, according to Fran Clark, NYPIRG’s Higher Education Program Coordinator, is that “it may price poorer students out of university centers or high cost majors.” Even with a proportional increase in assistance, the higher costs alone make Stony Brook and other SUNY schools less attractive or accessible to disadvantaged students, who may not even apply.
Currently, the New York Tuition Assistance Program is already stretched thin. The maximum TAP award is $5,000 per year, while full time tuition and fees at Stony Brook generally run around $3,500 per semester. Any increase on the TAP award cap would have to apply to all New York State schools, not just the six with increased tuition. This would disproportionately increase the burden on the students attending Stony Brook, as opposed to another smaller campus.
Furthermore, any other proportional increases in tuition assistance isn’t guaranteed either. The policy of differential tuition, flex tuition—as it’s now being called—and even rational tuition, which was implemented last year, is dependent on non-binding legislation. This means that any promises made not to continue to siphon funds away from the school to pay off the state’s debts are completely empty. Any agreements to proportionally increase state support to disadvantaged students do not have to be upheld. There cannot be binding legislation of any kind. It’s unlawful. Most administrators and legislators conveniently forget to mention that, so students don’t realize what a bad deal they’re really getting.
We here at The Press share NYPIRG’s concerns. Stanley, during his address, also said, “We [the Higher Education budget] have done our share as far as I’m concerned.” This should include the students as well. The state’s and Higher Education System’s burdens should not fall on the most ill-equipped demographic to handle it.