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SUNY trustees approve proposal for scheduled tuition increases

Tuition at state university campuses would rise in annual "predictable" levels over the next five years under a resolution adopted unanimously Tuesday by the system's board of trustees.

But the request must be approved by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, who praised the idea, and the State Legislature, where it is certain to run into opposition.

Key lawmakers suggested the plan was dead even before the State University of New York board met Tuesday in Binghamton. The plan does not set any specific tuition targets or increases, but gives the chancellor the freedom to negotiate a five-year plan with Cuomo and lawmakers.

A top legislator, meanwhile, predicted trouble for a Senate Republican plan to allow more fiscal freedom and a tuition increase for the four university campus centers, including the University at Buffalo.

Senate Majority Leader Dean G. Skelos of Rockville Centre said last week that, in talks with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, D-Manhattan, one of his priorities would be extending a plan floated by UB -- dubbed UB 2020 -- to university centers in Binghamton, Stony Brook and Albany.

The plan calls for annual tuition increases and a simpler path for entering into deals with private companies -- all part of its ambitious development proposal that officials say will bring thousands of jobs to downtown Buffalo.

"I've mentioned it a couple of times, but it hasn't been a front-burner item, obviously, with the governor right now or with Shelly Silver. But we're going to continue to push it during the budget process," Skelos said.

In an interview, Silver said UB's plan cannot guarantee revenue proceeds would not end up back with the state and not SUNY, and that middle-class families not eligible for the Tuition Assistance Program would be hit by an increase of $3,750 in UB tuition over five years. "We don't think that would come under the definition of rational tuition," he said.

On the broader resolution to raise tuition at all 64 SUNY campuses, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said state funding cuts in recent years have forced the cancellation of degree programs, increases in class size and reliance on adjunct professors.

SUNY officials say they want the ability to raise tuition at regular, predictable levels to avoid the sudden increases -- as much as 43 percent in one year -- that can occur now.

Cuomo said the idea has a lot of merit and would change what is now a political process over when and whether to raise tuition.

"And a political body doing this on a year-to-year basis tends not to do it well, in my opinion," he said of the current process.

SUNY tuition, now $4,970 annually, does not include student fees or room and board.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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