Want to roil hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people across New York state? All it takes is three words: SUNY tuition hike.
That's exactly what we heard last Tuesday, as the SUNY Board of Trustees approved a 5 percent increase in in-state and out-of-state tuition. It's $220 a year, raising tuition to $4,570 a year for in-state students and $11,140 a year for out-of-state students.
As SUNY students who shoulder the rising cost (or have our parents do it), it's easy to grumble at the situation. Who wants an extra $110 tacked onto the semester bill?
Student trustee Donald Boyce sure didn't, as he was the sole board member who voted against it (the vote was 10-1 with one abstention). He said he supported the overall budget measure, but didn't support the tuition raise.
It's tremendously easy to adopt the mentality that any tuition increase is out of line and simply hurts students. But take this increase with a grain of salt. The last time SUNY raised tuition, in 2003, a budget crunch forced a skyrocket of 28 percent to tuition's current level of $4,350.
Considering this fact, it's easy to see that this measured increase is a much, much better alternative to the big jumps that the system has experienced in the past. Would we forego a 5 percent increase now in favor of a 25 percent jump six or seven years down the road, which would have a much higher impact on state residents?
Behind all of this is the simple fact that SUNY's student population is increasing. According to statistics released the day before the budget measure was approved, the student population increased 2.2 percent this year to a record 426,891 students in the tenth straight year of growth. One cannot expect the system to maintain itself indefinitely on the same budget when the number of students continually rises, along with the constant increase in the cost of providing a higher education.
Also important to consider is that a major goal of the budget increase is to hire 1,000 new full-time professors. This is tremendously important in the era of higher education institutions staffing their lecture halls with more and more part-time adjunct professors, simply because they cannot afford to pay the salaries of a tenured, full-time professor. This unfortunate trend has led to professor turnover at many schools, including Geneseo, as instructors leave jobs they love because they can't afford to live on the meager salaries offered to adjuncts.
The real issue lies not with the SUNY Board, but with a state legislature that's been picky about providing SUNY with the funding it needs.
Like it or not, you still can't get around the fact that a SUNY tuition is cheaper than many other state schools and the national average. For example, at the University of Connecticut's main campus at Storrs, it's $8,842 in-state, and $22,786 out-of-state. At the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, it's $9,921 in-state, and $20,499 out-of-state. Base tuition for the University of California system is $6,730, while the national average at public four-year colleges is $6,125.
In the face of these and massive costs of private schools, a 5 percent tuition raise just isn't anything to cry over.