In a letter submitted by Edward Herman, chairman of the United University Professions advocacy committee of the University at Buffalo, he insists that the Public Higher Education Empowerment and Innovation Act is not in the students' best interests. However, in March, the State University of New York Student Assembly, which represents all 64 campuses of the SUNY system, endorsed the act in a unanimous vote and many SUNY Student Government Associations followed and approved of the act individually.
What students find most appealing about this piece of legislation is that it will remove tuition from the political process by allowing the SUNY board of trustees to set tuition, not the Legislature. Additionally, this will allow SUNY to keep all tuition dollars, instead of it going to aid the state deficit.
Many people do not realize that Albany actually collects our tuition dollars and then allocates the sum to SUNY. In 2008, however, when the Legislature raised SUNY tuition by $620, only 10 percent of the increase ever made it back to students and campuses due to budget cuts.
The mission of SUNY and the board of trustees is to provide quality, affordable and accessible education; the same cannot be said for the State Legislature, which has voted for $424 million in budget cuts and tuition sweeps to SUNY over the last two years.
Some argue that the Empowerment Act will lead to the privatization of SUNY, but this tremendous reduction in state aid is the real privatization of the SUNY system.
In regard to the actual process of changing tuition, UUP's facts are no longer correct. The new legislation, agreed upon by Gov. David A. Paterson and the State Senate, states that tuition can be raised 1.5 times -- not 2.5 times as stated by UUP -- the five-year rolling average of the Higher Education Prices Index, which is currently 3.5 percent. Thus tuition increases would be closer to 5.25 percent, not 9 percent.
To address the concern of a differential tuition, which would increase tuition marginally based on which program a student chooses to study, the SUNY Student Assembly weighed the options and believes it will be much more beneficial than harmful. We understand that some programs are simply more expensive to operate compared to others, and believe it will be better in the end to pay more money rather than lower the quality of education or eliminate the program all together. SUNY has also agreed to take care of those students who cannot afford the extra tuition with SUNY aid, which will cover the difference and waive loans if the student chooses to work in public service upon graduation.
New Yorkers deserve a public university system that meets SUNY's mission of affordability, quality and accessibility. Abolishing programs because of lack of funds does nothing to improve access to quality and affordable higher education.
Kyle J. Hill is director of Government Relations for the SUNY Student Assembly.