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Albany seeks to place unwise burden on students

As vice president of the State University of New York Student Assembly and a student at the University at Buffalo, I would like to call attention to the recent deficit reduction plan passed by the State Legislature as well as the executive budget proposed by Gov. David A. Paterson.

As every reader of this paper knows, these are devastating economic times for New York State and all of its residents. Workers all over this state are suffering through job losses and pay cuts. Students are aware that state agencies should not be exempt from such reductions, but it is important to recognize that the purpose of SUNY is unique. SUNY provides affordable, quality higher education for more than 438,000 students in New York. It is likely that someone you know has been educated or will be educated through SUNY.

In 2008 alone, the SUNY system has been the victim of an unprecedented level of cuts. The 2009-10 executive budget proposes yet another $146 million reduction in state support. Far worse, however, is the Legislature's endorsement of a policy that directly taxes students and their families.

My tuition dollars are taken away from my classrooms and my campus to close state budget gaps. The $146 million decrease in state support for SUNY this year was supposed to be offset by the $310 increase in tuition for students like me.

Instead, the $76 million that will be generated by a tuition increase will not be seen by SUNY at all. We are left with a mere $7.6 million. This policy essentially makes permanent the concept that SUNY students and their families would be paying additional state taxes when they pay their bills each semester.

Every leader in New York State, including Paterson, has asserted support for public higher education. However, the passage of the deficit reduction plan and other executive budget proposals show otherwise. The plan passed by state legislators forces the burden of the deficit onto the backs of students and their families.

The SUNY Student Assembly has presented practical options to massive cuts. The students have agreed to do their fair share by supporting a rational tuition plan. We recognize that the cost of operating a university, like everything else, changes from year to year, and we have acted responsibly in our interest and the interest of the state.

In supporting a rational tuition policy, students do not mean for tuition increases to be a gift to the state, but rather as a means to ensure the quality of our education and that of New Yorkers for years to come.

As the prospective residents, work force and leaders of this state, I can assure you that the future of New York State lies in the quality of a SUNY education. A quality education needs to be properly funded, and for many New Yorkers, a SUNY education is the only affordable option in higher education.

Melody Mercedes is vice president of the SUNY Student Assembly at the University at Buffalo.

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