By New York Public Interest Research Group
ALBANY N.Y.– New York State has charged public college students nearly $4 billion more as a result of scheduled tuition hikes at the State University of New York and the City University of New York. Even when considering additional assistance provided by the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and the new Excelsior scholarship program, students have paid $2.5 billion in additional tuition.
The added tuition dollars have added up over an approximate 9-year period resulting from passage of the “SUNY 2020” law first enacted in 2011 and actions by local governments impacting community college costs. (See
attached table for 4-year and 2-year public colleges.) This year’s tuition increases will drive that number even higher.
In 2011, Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature passed NY SUNY 2020, a multi-part higher education bill which, among other things, increased tuition annually at SUNY and CUNY. At the time of the first passage,
Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers promised to use the additional tuition dollars to enhance student services, including but not limited to; academic mentoring, counseling and advising. The tuition dollars were not intended to backfill budget holes but rather enhance student’s education.
An important provision of SUNY 2020 was the “maintenance of effort,” which stipulated that the legislature would not reduce SUNY’s or CUNY’s general operating funds in following budgets. This was to ensure that
increased tuition would not be offset by decreased state support. However, the “maintenance of effort” provision excludes certain mandatory, predictable cost increases. Actions by the legislature to amend this underscores that the SUNY2020 law does not keep whole the systems’ general operating funds, consistent with the law’s stated intention.
During the years reviewed by this analysis, the state’s all funds budget increased by over 26% – more than enough to have allowed for increased state support for public colleges and universities, and to offset the growing
tuition burden placed on public college students and their families.
Anecdotal evidence buttresses the claim that tuition dollars are being used to fill budget shortfalls resulting from stagnant state support. Most notably, the Legislature has repeatedly approved legislation to change the “SUNY
2020” law to boost state support to fill shortfalls. While improvements in student services are hard to quantify, the most recent federal data available shows at best a very modest increase in full-time instructional staff.
In addition, reports from the campuses themselves provide additional evidence of a continuing and deepening New York State fiscal shortfall for basic year over year additional costs at SUNY and CUNY.
According to SUNY New Paltz Vice President for Administration and Finance, revenues are not keeping pace with necessary increases in expenditure. One factor among others cited was no increases in direct state support since 2012. In response to an anticipated $5 million budget deficit, in 2018 SUNY New Paltz implemented a 90-day hiring freeze for faculty positions vacated through attrition or retirement. CUNY Baruch College’s President released a statement that they expected a $5 million budget shortfall for Fiscal Year 2019 and are implementing across the board department budget cuts and vacancy-control measures. CUNY Lehman College’s President has outlined strategies to overcome the college’s structural deficit of $4 million for this year alone.
As a result of budget shortfalls, Binghamton University cut their library budget and administering a hiring freeze on all staff positions aside from Adjuncts and Teaching Assistants. The university is not replacing two retiring faculty members in the Department of Art and Design and put a temporary suspension on the graphic design minor. Stony Brook University has enacted a hiring freeze as well, citing an $18.5 million budget shortfall, and are eliminating their undergraduate pharmacology program.
The erosion of state support and the creation of growing funding gaps is translating into an erosion of student services and quality of education. Students have experienced firsthand difficulty in getting into the classes they need to graduate, limited services such as library hours, and advisement gaps across the CUNY and SUNY system. The consequences have been especially troubling for students interested in graduating on time.
Additionally, the supports needed to develop academically have been in ever shorter supply, as swelling student numbers increase demand for services. According to a CUNY survey, over a third of CUNY students reported not being able to register for a course they needed for their major. Of those students, half couldn’t register because there were not enough seats available.
NYPIRG urges the Governor and Legislature to:
● Freeze all tuition rates at senior and community colleges and ultimately move to a free CUNY and SUNY.
● Enhance funding for CUNY and SUNY by closing the “TAP Gap” and include mandatory costs in its base funding equation through enhanced “maintenance of effort.”
● Enhance financial aid programs like TAP and the Excelsior Scholarship, so that they are available during winter and summer sessions, expanded for use beyond covering tuition, and provided for incarcerated individuals and graduate students.
● Expand funding for student services and opportunity programs – such as CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) which is a model for free public college, addressing the all-in costs of higher education.
For more information: Blair Horner