NYPIRG seeks CUNY and SUNY tuition freeze

Lloyd Huff Jr., Staff Writer

The New York Public Interest Research Group is gaining support in its push for a tuition freeze in response to New York State’s failure to cover State University of New York and City University of New York operating costs.

Statewide, NYPIRG has gathered approximately 17,000 individual signatures in support of a tuition freeze, should New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo veto the Maintenance of Effort Bill, which requires the state to increase funding for the SUNY and CUNY systems.

In 2011, Gov. Cuomo approved the NY-SUNY 2020 Challenge Grant program. The program allows SUNY and CUNY institutions to increase tuition at a maximum rate of $300 annually over the next five years: an overall tuition hike of more than 25 percent from the time of enactment. In turn, the state agreed to cover the cost of general operating funding so that tuition hikes could be used to increase staff and programs.

However, the state failed to provide adequate funding, and the burden has fallen on students. According to NYPIRG Project Coordinator for SUNY Buffalo State, Wesley Thomas, students now cover the majority of costs at SUNY schools.

“In 2008, student tuition covered about 40 percent of SUNY’s budget, but currently students are responsible for 60 percent of SUNY’s budget,” Thomas said. “We have gone in the complete opposite direction from what was promised.”

The State Legislature passed the Maintenance of Effort Bill earlier this year. The Assembly voted 146-1 and the Senate voted 62-1. The dissenting votes being from Assemblyman Bill Nojay and Sen. John A. DeFrancisco, respectively. It’s now up to Cuomo to sign the bill.

Cuomo’s office did not immediately respond to The Record. Regarding the Maintenance of Effort Bill, Cuomo has been silent.

On separate occasions, United University Professions President Fred Kowal; Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, the assembly sponsor of the bill; and the SUNY Board of Trustees have all called on Cuomo to sign the Maintenance of Effort Bill. Additionally, NYPIRG recently sent 10,000 postcards to Cuomo’s office from individuals urging him to sign the bill, and still, there has been no response.

SUNY 2020 is set to expire following the 2016 spring semester, and Cuomo is expected to push for its renewal. Without the Maintenance of Effort Bill in place, it is possible that students will continue to endure tuition hikes to cover the SUNY budget. As a result, NYPIRG is now leading the charge for a tuition freeze so that the burden of cost is not continuously carried by students and their families.

“Realistically, we can fight this. We can’t get rid of tuition or drastically reduce it, but we can stop the tuition hikes, at least until the state makes a significant effort to hold up their end of the bargain,” Thomas said.

NYPIRG expects to surpass their target of 25,000 signatures. Thomas is confident that statewide, they will be able to get as many as 40,000 signatures. At the campus level, NYPIRG is seeking support from campus clubs and organizations. As of right now, Buffalo State’s Pride Alliance, S.P.I.R.I.T., C.R.A.G.G., Black Active Minds, Student Political Society, and Black Tape Company have signed on in support.

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