Off Our Backs!

Students shouldn’t shoulder CUNY’s money problems. Why the tuition increase defies logic

by Dustin Plutzer.

At a time when the average student graduates with a $25,250 debt, the CUNY board of trustees did what they consider the only rational choice to raise money: hike tuition 30 percent over the next five years.

Though unemployment is hovering at 9 percent nationally, nearly double that for African Americans, the CUNY trustees are placing the burden of state budget cuts squarely on student’s shoulders.  The City College of New York will be particularly hard-hit, as it serves one of the most diverse student populations in the CUNY system with many students struggling to make ends meet.

Many attend City College because they cannot afford an education elsewhere, and it is infuriating that the trustees decision to increase tuition appears to throw these students’ futures to the wayside.  City College has abandoned its mission; there is no excuse or rationale that can change this simple fact.

“City College’s commitment to access is two-fold. It strives to offer an affordable education and to recruit and support a diverse student population, reflective of both New York City and the global society in which we live. This commitment to access stems not only from a belief that every student prepared for a rigorous college education deserves access to and support for it, but also that excellence itself requires the broad inclusion of, in the words of Townsend Harris, “the children of the whole people.”

This commitment to provide access to education for those who cannot afford it comes straight from the CCNY mission statement online.  So how is a 30 percent increase during one of the most uncertain economic times in recent history going to help make education more accessible?

President Lisa Staino-Coico sent out an email to all CCNY students and faculty to address this sensitive issue. In it Staino-Coico first explains that state legislatures (aka state senators in Albany, New York) have decided to cut funding for public education in order to decrease the budget deficit in a bad economy. This is where we as students need to take some responsibility.

State lawmakers are elected officials, and those officials had a choice of which programs to cut. It is now up to students to take an active role in local elections, to make sure the officials who voted to cut funding for public education are not reelected.

Staino-Coico’s second point, though, is a bit confusing. “All previous tuition increases have been used to offset New York State’s budget reductions. For the first time, the entire tuition increase comes directly to the College, providing more resources to hire full-time faculty and to support students,” Staino-Coico explains in the email.

Is she saying that we do not need a tuition increase, but are choosing to do so to improve the lives of students? If that is the case, it is common sense listen to the voices of the students who will be affected by this increase. Clearly, however, the board did not want to hear from the opposition. The decision to raise tuition was made by the trustees with little consideration of the feelings of the students they claim to represent.

In staunch protest against the proposed tuition hikes, hundreds of CUNY students marched to the so-called “public” hearings at Baruch College on November 21st.  While trying to voice their objections they found themselves blocked by security officers. And when students refused to disperse they were beaten back.

Staino-Coico goes on to personally address the increase in her college-wide email saying, “I do not believe that the support that we are likely to receive from New York State will improve any time soon, and I believe that these gradual tuition increases are rational and necessary at this point in time to continue to improve the educational experience at City College.”

If the claim that these tuition increases are not being used to offset budget reductions is true, then the support we receive from New York State is irrelevant. Question for President Lisa and the CUNY Board of Trustees regarding this so-called rational tuition increase: Why now? What is the rationale behind deciding to hire more teachers now? Voluntarily raising the cost of education during a time when the U.S. economy is still reeling from the impact of the “Great Recession” seems the opposite of rational.

According to the most recent data available from the Office of Institutional Research, only 38.9 percent of the freshman class from 2004 graduated over a six-year period. That means more than 60 percent of students did not graduate.  By raising tuition, that statistic is likely going to get worse.

President Lisa-Staino Coico has done some commendable things in her short tenure at CCNY. However, in order to win the trust of the student body she will have to do more. As a graduate of the CUNY system herself, Staino-Coico should value the need for affordable education. The chancellor makes over $600,000 a year, and President Lisa is paid approximately $400,000 a year.

Perhaps a show of solidarity is in order. In her email, Staino-Coico promises to re-double efforts to obtain private donations to compensate for these tuition hikes. A private donation of 3 percent of their gross salaries from both Staino-Coico and the chancellor would be a great start.

That is $30,000 each year, which needy students can use to offset the burden of this tuition hike. That is more than one hundred students each year that can be saved the hardship of this structured increase in the cost of their education.

If 30 percent is rational to ask of the students, perhaps 3 percent is rational to ask for in return.



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