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A sensible plan

  The Student Assembly of the State University of New York supports the idea. So does the University Faculty Senate. And this week the SUNY trustees got on board, passing a resolution that authorizes Chancellor Nancy Zimpher to "pursue negotiations with the governor’s office and Legislature to craft a rational tuition plan for resident undergraduate students."

  As for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, he said he thinks the concept has "a lot of merit."

  Yet no one is predicting adoption of the tuition plan. Why? First, because only days remain before the deadline for completion of a new state budget. And second, there are two other hurdles: the lack of a SUNY tuition increase in Mr. Cuomo’s executive budget and, more importantly, the Legislature’s likely reluctance to let go of even part of its control over SUNY tuition.

  Nonetheless, it’s worth making every effort to secure agreement on this plan.

  The chancellor’s proposal calls for a five-year tuition plan that would bring predictability to the cost of a SUNY education while also giving the university system a sustainable revenue stream. Two facts illustrate why this is a common-sense approach:

  • SUNY’s current annual tuition is $4,970-lowest among all public institutions of higher education in the northeastern United States and among the lowest nationwide.
  • The State University has absorbed more than $1.1 billion in cuts over the past three years, and if the 2011-12 executive budget is enacted, it will suffer an additional $362 million hit-for a four-year reduction of nearly $1.5 billion or almost 35 percent.

  SUNY sets its tuition rates, but changes need Legislature approval. Over nearly a half-century, resident tuition has been increased only 13 times. But when hikes have occurred, they’ve never been smaller than 7 percent; in 1991-92, tuition soared 43 percent.

  The Zimpher plan calls for "modest annual increases if such increases are necessary."

  Another important element of the proposal: It would separate SUNY’s tuition and fees to protect them from "sweeps" into the state’s general fund, ending the practice of using SUNY funds for other purposes.

SUNY is one of New York’s key assets. But staying on the current path could put its future at risk.

3/25/11 (c) 2011 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or e-mail rbj@rbj.net.

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