Saving SUNY

UB students and administrators have mixed opinions on Student Assembly's tuition stance

The Spectrum

Student leaders from across the 64 SUNY campuses sent a strong message to Governor Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday in response to his budget for the upcoming year. Along with a 10 percent, multimillion dollar cut to the SUNY budget came the governor's promise to not increase tuition for state schools this year.

The Student Assembly, a SUNY student government association, responded to the governor's budget by asking him to raise tuition, rationally.

A statewide student government that represents all 465,000 students from 64 New York public universities, colleges and community colleges, the Student Assembly is composed of elected student officials from every SUNY campus.

The assembly, which has no real legislative power but rather acts strictly in an advisory role to the Albany state government, has opposed mid-year, unexpected and irrational tuition increases that the SUNY system has faced as a result of the state's financial hardships for the past several years.

According to Julie Gondar, a senior at the University at Albany and the president of the Student Assembly, in recent history the SUNY system has faced tremendous budget cuts and tuition hikes with all the extra revenue making its way into the pockets of the legislators and not back on the campuses where it belongs.

Along with the help of her fellow assembly members, Gondar has proposed to the governor a resolution that asks for a rational, yearly tuition increase that students can plan for and expect instead of the unexpected tuition hikes seen in the past several years.

"If [the governor] does not enact a rational tuition increase policy now, then next year tuition will go up," Gondar said. "Saying that tuition is not going up this year is the same as saying it will go up next year."

President John Simpson also took time to weigh in on what the governor's new budget could mean for UB students.

"I think, in my view, that it is less about an increase [in tuition] per se and more about a [tuition] policy that makes sense," Simpson said. "As it is right now, you have no way of predicting when tuition is going to go up, how much it is going to go up and, perhaps most of all, [tuition increases] are plugging holes in the state budget as opposed to providing better education to the place you are a student and the place you are paying tuition."

Simpson also supports the Assembly's proposal of a rational tuition increase to combat the state's budget cuts and the irrational tuition hikes of the past.

"I agree with the Student Assembly's position that having a rational tuition policy is the way to do it," Simpson said. "You look over the last 30 years and into the future and [you can see that] your tuition is going to go up. Let's do it in a way that we understand and can predict and is rational as opposed to the roulette way that we have now."

However, UB students like Renée Groetz, a freshman nursing major, feel that it is unfair for Gondar and the Student Assembly to tell the governor that all of SUNY is in favor of tuition increases.

"Tuition should stay as it is; it's high enough already," Groetz said. "I don't think that [the Student Assembly] should say that everyone does [want a tuition increase], because that is probably not true. I feel like all SUNY students should have had a vote, not just the Assembly."

Liz Connors, a freshman communication major, also disagrees with the Assembly's message to the governor.

"[Tuition] is so much money already," Connors said. "The Student Assembly does not represent the opinion of all of SUNY. There are so many students just here [at UB] that I'm sure would totally disagree with raising tuition."

While some UB students may not feel represented by the Assembly's decision to support a rational tuition increase, Gondar reminds students that the Assembly is comprised of representatives from all SUNY schools that were elected by the student body. She also stated that her objective is not to raise tuition, but make possible increases predictable.

Amanda Horn, a junior communication major and a UB SUNY Delegate, supported the Assembly's stance on a rational tuition policy and urged other UB students to do the same.

"I think [if Cuomo raised tuition] it would have been an unpopular choice at first," Horn said. "But I think if you look into it more, [a rational tuition increase] is a better choice because it is a more sustainable option for [SUNY schools]."

Horn believes that it is a more sustainable option for SUNY because in the past Albany has raised tuition but kept up to 90 percent of the increase to help pay off the state deficit. Horn says, however, that a rational tuition increase system can and will be a success only if all of the extra funding from the increased tuition goes right back to the schools.

Students should look at a rational tuition increase policy as a positive rather than a negative, according to Horn.

"Rational tuition [increases] is a way to ensure that SUNY students and future SUNY students know what tuition will be ahead of time," Horn said. "This enables future students and their families to properly save and prepare so they can attend SUNY schools."

Shervin Stoney, the Student Association vice president, agrees that tuition should be increased only if it means that all the money will be sent back to the schools to save programs and student services that are in danger of being cut due to the governor's proposed budget.

"I'm only in favor of a tuition increase if all of the money goes back to the students," Stoney said. "In the past, the state legislator has done a 90/10 split [where Albany takes 90 percent of the money from the tuition increase and only gives the schools back 10 percent]. If the legislators plan on doing that, I don't want any part of it. I only support a tuition increase if every dollar goes back to the students."

In addition, Gondar wants students to know that the Assembly is not trying to raise tuition but rather to fight for "tuition reform."

"We don't want to raise your tuition. We are trying to protect you and your education," Gondar said. "It's not about raising tuition, but we [as SUNY students] have to be willing to raise tuition so our programs and quality of education does not get cut."

Nischal Vasant, SA president, agrees with Gondar that schools like UB could face significant changes if something is not done to change the SUNY financial situation.

"We need to sit down and talk about what this means for UB," Vasant said. "It's a question of ‘would you be willing to pay a higher [tuition] fee to keep all the services and academic programs that we have on campus right now?' And it's not as simple as, ‘yes I support it' or ‘no I don't,' because at this point we need to find out what the impact of the whole situation is."

The combination of the governor's proposed $20 million cut to the SUNY system combined with the lack of a rational tuition policy could lead to some tough decisions for SUNY students, according to Vasant.

"I believe that at some point this semester students are going to have to take a stand," Vasant said. "From the limited information that I have now, [the governor's budget cuts to SUNY] may have a very significant impact here at UB."

Simpson, who reminds students that the SUNY system already sustained $60 million in budget cuts in the last few years, warns that an extra $20 million in cuts could have severe effects on campus.

"The simple truth is that we are out of Band-Aids," Simpson said. "In the past few years we have done all the clever things we could think of [to make cuts]…while still protect[ing] the academic core, and we will have to continue to do that. But now [with the new 10 percent cut] we will be seeing changes on campus that the students and the faculty and staff will be seeing on a daily basis. Everything, everything is on the table."