Student Assembly working to reform

Leaders of the SUNY student assembly have decided to head a student reform campaign to address some of the issues currently pressing the system.

Last year, SUNY tuition increased by $620; most of that increase was used to offset the state's deficit. "We were New York state's ATM and that can't happen," said University at Albany senior Julie Gondar, president of the SUNY Student Assembly and voting member of the SUNY Board of Trustees.

Gov. David Patterson, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and numerous New York state legislators have attempted to change the process through which tuition is increased through the Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act. The act aimed to institute a rational tuition policy that would make tuition costs more equitable and predictable for students. It also contained provisions that would give SUNY campuses more independence in enacting tuition increases.

Gondar said, though, that the act was complicated and inconsistent. For example, Godar said that in some cases the university centers would see tuition increases where comprehensive colleges would not.

With the bill remaining untouched by the state senate, members of the SUNY Student Assembly began work on their own proposal to deal with what they perceive as shortcomings in the SUNY system.

The student reform campaign is in its early stages but will mainly address the topic of tuition increases. "Our tuition has increased irrationally for years and it's evident we need to improve these setbacks," Gondar said. "Best of all, our reform will help SUNY students predict the cost of future tuition."

Gondar said she hopes the student assembly can establish a plan so that tuition increases will be regular and announced in advanced. "We are not being na've," she said. "If we look at the facts and history we know tuition will go up, but if we plan, it won't go out of control."

The student assembly is also looking at fees not currently covered by financial aid. Gondar said that some institutions, such as the University at Buffalo, impose over $1,500 of fees that are not covered by financial aid.

The student assembly also finds problems with SUNY community colleges, Gondar said, noting significant tuition hikes at community colleges which could translate into serious problems for the colleges in the future.

"We are worried that tuition for community colleges will reach a level where tuition exceeds financial aid," she said.

The student assembly will begin serious work on its proposal at the fall 2010 conference from Oct. 29 - 31 at Binghamton University. Gondar said she intends to make sure that all assembly members understand and are on board with addressing the problems in the SUNY system. "I know what is going on here and I want them to know what is going on with their tuition," she said.

Gondar said she hopes the conference will be an open conversation between student leaders. "I think it is imperative for us to have our own voice," she said. "500,000 student voices are stronger than an administrative voice."