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Study finds increasing SUNY tuition exceeds norm for public universities

State spending declining

By Brian Hecht
Published: 3/1/2005


State spending for public universities has been declining steadily since 1994, making New York state schools more expensive than those in other large states, according to a report issued Monday by the New York Public Interest Research Group.

In 1994, tuition revenues constituted 39.6 percent of the budget for the State University of New York. Today, with state contributions to the institutions down, students are paying over 50 percent of the SUNY budget. Tuition at SUNY schools has risen 111 percent since 1989. Adjusted for inflation, tuition is up 29 percent in the last decade, the report states. "Governor Pataki has made it a habit to attack students and their families," said Tim Marvin, project coordinator at NYPIRG's Syracuse office.

"The national trend has shown that New York schools have become more expensive compared to schools in other large states," he said.

Tuition at SUNY schools was $4,882 last year, up 22.2 percent from the year before. However, SUNY tuition remained only $244 above the national average.

"I still think a SUNY education is a bargain," said John View, director of the financial aid office at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry.

SUNY tuition is $1,000 more than public schools in California and nearly $2,000 more than public schools in Florida.

"Things are worse in other states," View said.

While New York's situation is not dire, the state needs to continue to adequately fund the SUNY system, View said. Access and choice are hallmarks of an education in New York, he said.

Gov. George E. Pataki has proposed raising SUNY tuition $500 this year, according to NYPIRG. The added revenue is necessary to prevent budget cuts, View said.

Higher tuition revenues will allow SUNY-ESF to maintain its facilities and hopefully hire new faculty. Full-time faculty in the SUNY system has been declining for a decade, View said. Money is also used to guarantee funding for auxiliary services such as librarians, tutors, computer technicians and administrators.

"The bad thing about a tuition increase is the potential for students to be shut out," View said.

The lowest income students will feel the burden the hardest. "There is competition for scarce aid dollars and scarce resources," View said.

However, New York still has one of the most generous state grant programs in the nation, he said.

"The model is fantastic," he said.

The state needs to do more to allow lower income students to afford college, Marvin said.

"Cheaper and more affordable education is good for the state in the long run," he said.

NYPIRG is planning a trek to Albany on March 7 to lobby for more state aid.

"This is an important time for students to be their own activists," he said.

The organization hopes to have 1,500 supporters gather in Albany, including a few dozen from SUNY-ESF, Marvin said. "We are making sure to get as many students as possible to make sure that our voices are heard," he said.

The state has an historic responsibility to provide access to an affordable education.

"So far, New York has not been living up to its promise," Marvin said. Higher tuition is felt especially hard at SUNY-ESF, which, as a specialized school, often has students graduate in nine, 10 or 11 semesters. Most majors require at least 142 credit hours for graduation, View said.

"There are some programs that really can't be fit into a four year program," said Caitlin Berkery, a sophomore environmental and forest biology major at SUNY-ESF.

Many students end up taking three or four lab courses in a semester, which are very time-consuming, she said. Constant tuition increases put added pressure on students.

Last week, SUNY system Chancellor Robert King proposed a system that would guarantee that a student's tuition would remain the same for all four years of his undergraduate education.

"Overall, I think SUNY schools are definitely fairly priced," Berkery said. "However, it is annoying that they increase the tuition every year."

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