Fee could add $1,000 to tuition

For students in search of quality education at an affordable price, the low tuition of a SUNY school seems like a dream come true. For those at Geneseo, considered the public honors college of the SUNY system, it's even better.

Some students believe that this too-good-to-be-true dream is quickly transforming into a harsh reality that features an additional fee tacked onto pre-existing school expenses. This reality comes in form of the Academic Excellence Fee that, according to Vice President of Administration and Finance Kenneth Levison, is intended to help Geneseo fulfill its vision of being one of the "premier public liberal arts colleges in the country."

The excellence fee, which has been in review since May in the New York State's Governor's Office of Regulatory Reform, would be no more than $1,000, and would be covered by the Tuition Assistance Program for eligible students.

The fee would primarily be used to hire additional full-time faculty so as to lower the current student-faculty ratio of 19:1 to the standard 12:1 in place at other public honors colleges and private universities.

"What we really want to do is lower the student-faculty ratio so that we can give the students the individual attention they need and deserve," Levison said. He also noted that the administration seeks to have the sufficient funding to raise faculty salaries to "at least the national average," in comparison to their current position in the third quartile.

"We believe that you should be taught by full-time faculty who are here to counsel you and give you the best education possible. If we raise their salaries, lower the number of adjuncts, and lower the student-faculty ratio, our students will be getting the education and experience that they deserve."

In addition to faculty concerns, Levison expressed frustrations regarding the budget allocations of New York State. The allocation method, in essence, is based on the level of instruction (e.g., undergraduate, graduate, etc.) and the expenses associated with the corresponding instruction.

"It's difficult to get the funds that you need in a system as big as this one," Levison said. "We're a center of excellence and we're stuck since we have no resources. We needed to find a way to bridge that gap between lack of funds and achieving our goals to continue being a center of excellence."

In order to address the issue, the administration drafted a proposal that consisted of additional funding from the state as well as an increase in differential tuition. This proposal, however, was rejected by former SUNY Chancellor John Ryan, who claimed that there was no additional aid to be received from the state.

Instead, according to Levison, Ryan proposed that Geneseo consider drafting a proposal for an additional fee, now referred to as the Academic Excellence Fee, which would be financed by the students so as to "bridge the gap" and provide Geneseo with the monetary resources it needs to fulfill its mission as a public honors college.

The fee, which has yet to be approved by the state, is "not the perfect solution to our main need," according to President Christopher Dahl. "What we need is a lower student-faculty ratio and this fee is definitely a positive step in achieving that goal. But, it's important to know that this fee won't be implemented without informing people beforehand of its passage."

Dahl also re-emphasized the fact that those eligible for the Tuition Assistance Program would be exempt from the fee, and would therefore have little impact on the diversity of applicants and accepted students. "This fee will not be going into effect as of fall 2008," Dahl said. "But, the fee will help us be the institution we strive to be and give our students the resources, counseling and quality education they deserve."

Student opinion has varied. "I think the extra fee would turn some people away, especially people who can't afford it," said freshman Sunaina Bedi. "And, I don't really see it as necessary because we already have high standards and are far ahead in terms of academics, so I don't think we really need the push right now to be better."

Others, however, are receptive to the fee. "I hadn't heard of this before now," said freshman Kristin Ververs. "But, I feel like in comparison to the other schools that we're on the same level with, academics-wise, it would help us stay on that level with them."

Resident assistant Tom O'Loughlin agreed: "As a student, anything extra that I have to pay back is going to be a pain. But, in the long run I think it would be good for Geneseo get that status as an honors college. And even though I don't want to pay it, I think we're still getting a steal."

Levison stressed that "this is not a sinister thing or an attempt to take money from people. What we want to do is make a significant difference in students' experience here and add to the quality of the education that students are receiving."

Student Association President Brendan Quinn supports the fee. "This has the potential to do a lot of good for Geneseo, especially in terms of the quality of faculty we bring in and the diversity of faculty that we can attract to teach here," he said. "This fee, however, must be accompanied with additional support from the state."

Quinn, however, does not want the burden of this fee to fall onto the shoulders of current students and subsequently force them to leave Geneseo. "I would like to see SUNY grandfather this fee in so that the classes of 2009, 2010, and 2011 are exempt," he said. "I'd hate for current students to be put in the position of having to choose whether to stay at Geneseo or leave partway through their education."

As of now, implementation of the academic excellence fee is at a standstill until the Governor's Office for Regulatory Reform passes it. If the fee is ratified, it will move on to the "rule making" process of approval consisting of support from the secretary of state, a period of feedback and a vote from the SUNY Board of Trustees.