SUNY Fredonia, Alfred State move to offer low tuition to out-of-state students has promise and problems

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As college tuition continues to skyrocket, students are looking in state for affordable options. SUNY Fredonia and SUNY Alfred State want to take a risky, controversial step in changing that.

Fredonia currently draws most of its students from New York State, with only 18 students from Pennsylvania enrolled – even though parts of Pennsylvania and Ohio are a short drive away from Fredonia’s campus.

Fredonia and Alfred State, along with SUNY Potsdam, which is close to Canada, are all included on a proposed State Senate bill that would allow tuition cuts for close, but out-of-state, students.

The bill would reduce tuition at Fredonia for Pennsylvania and Ohio students to approximately $9,255 a year. Currently, out-of-state tuition and fees total over $17,000 while in-state costs total a much more affordable $7,740 annually.

The proposal certainly sounds appealing – at first. Reducing tuition is a difficult suggestion to oppose, as making college more affordable for students is an inarguably noble and needed change.

But the division between in state and out of state exists for a reason – watering down that boundary makes for a slippery slope.

Borders, no matter where they’re drawn, can always be called arbitrary. But the division between states generates less argument than a border determined by general proximity.

After all, if students from Pennsylvania and Ohio get reduced tuition, why not students just across the border of those states?

Students living just across the border from Pennsylvania could make the same argument as those living minutes away from New York State.

Additionally, Fredonia and other SUNY schools are supported by taxpayers of New York, not Ohio or Pennsylvania. For students and their families who don’t pay taxes to receive benefits typically reserved for taxpayers seems unjust.

Yet, this move is not unprecedented and far from unnecessary.

Cleveland State has initiated tuition cuts for New York students, and the University of Pittsburgh Bradford offers in-state tuition to students in nearby counties – a slightly more limited model of tuition decreases that SUNY schools could consider.

And though the tuition decrease is problematic, the SUNY schools considering this program are doing so out of necessity, not mere generosity. Fredonia is seeking to increase enrollment – currently only around 2 percent of its students come from out of state, and administrators would like to see that number closer to 10.

This initiative is certainly controversial, but at least proponents are aware of the potential issues that could develop. For example, the program would ensure that out-of-state students do not end up taking away spaces sought after by in-state applicants.

More importantly, the tuition discount would be implemented on a trial basis. A three-year trial would allow the effectiveness of the program to be evaluated, and adjusted or eliminated if necessary.

It’s hard to argue against any program that reduces the financial burden on college students, regardless of their home state. But the needs of in-state students must be considered as well.

Fortunately, it appears that the proposed program can offer a compromise, one that helps students from nearby states but doesn’t hurt those from New York, while also increasing enrollment at schools that need it.

email: editorial@ubspectrum.com