Faculty, students react to Cuomo’s free public tuition proposal

Commissioner of the New York State Office of General Services RoAnn Destito presented the State of the State and Budget presentation on Friday Jan. 20. Destito highlighted Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to provide free tuition to New York State public colleges and universities to families making under $125,000 a year

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his plan on Jan. 3 to provide students whose families earn under $125,000 a year with free tuition to any New York State public college or university. 

Commissioner of the New York State Office of General Services RoAnn Destito provided a State of the State and Budget presentation on Friday Jan. 20 on the Geneseo campus, highlighting Cuomo’s plans for higher education. First impressions of this bill from Geneseo students, faculty and staff were mixed. 

President Denise Battles views the Governor’s priority to increase the affordability of the state’s public schools as a positive step. 

“It’s very appealing to individuals in the state who are looking at the cost of higher education and wondering how to afford it,” Battles said. “This will be a big boon to individuals with those salary caps and this program does extend to the middle class. The idea of expanding affordability, managing student debt and growing access, promoting timely completion—these are all great things.” 

President of the United University Professions chapter at Geneseo and adjunct lecturer in English and languages and literatures Wes Kennison ‘79 said that improving higher education opportunities for students can benefit the community.

“Anything that gets more access to higher education is great,” Kennison said. “People out in the community benefit from the work that smart people do when you go out there. It’s a benefit to the student and the community where the campus is located.”

Multiple members of the faculty and student body expressed concerns, however. Student Association President senior Michael Baranowski said that he believes that the state funding is misplaced. 

“You can only put so much in tuition and the school can only grow so much,” Baranowski said. “We need money to fix residents’ homes, and increasing the amount of students and their tuition is not going to do that.” 

Interim Provost and professor of English Paul Schacht, while supportive of free higher education as a right to all citizens, is also concerned about the proposed plan’s impact on funding department operating costs, filling vacant faculty lines and increasing support services to students that enable them to succeed.

Instructional Support Specialist Ed Beary voiced his uneasiness during the State of the State and Budget presentation as well. 

 “I’ve gone through these nice little cycles of the state giving us and not giving us money,” Beary said. “But in the last 10 years, we haven’t gotten any money. It’s been flat; we’re taking a loss.”

Beary spends time on campus during the weekends fixing equipment by scavenging from other places, since the school doesn’t have a budget for equipment, he said. 

“You talk about education, but where is the support?” he said. “You go back to the governor and tell him to get his act together and start supporting SUNY.”

Destito informed Beary that his concerns would be brought to Cuomo when she returned to Albany. A member of the audience also questioned Destito on how the state would fund this $163 million program when, according to her presentation, no tax raises would be proposed.  

“The economy is growing,” Destito said. “The economy is definitely better than when Cuomo found this state…the income is up and he has budgeted very strategically.”

Destito also said that the potential problem of an influx of students in Geneseo—or any other SUNY school—would be dealt with when it arises.  

Kennison had further concerns regarding the funding for professional and teaching faculty.

“You won’t find too many department chairs on this campus who will tell you they have enough faculty to provide for their requirements,” Kennison said. “They are always turning people away and classes are at their absolute maximum.” 

Geneseo is struggling to support its students because of this issue, according to Kennison.

“We have been asked to do more with less for decades now,” he said. “So, part of my critique of the budget presentation we received is that all it talked about was tuition. There was no information in there about any maintenance of effort on the part of the funding of SUNY.”

News editor Annie Renaud contributed reporting to this article.