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Tuition may rise 30% at SUNY over next 5 years

Tuition at the state university system will rise by 30 percent over the next five years under a tentative deal struck Tuesday at the State Capitol.

Officials have agreed to hike tuition $300 per year in each of the next five years, raising it from the present $4,970 annual charge to $6,470 for in-state, undergraduate students.

The University at Buffalo, however, is still pressing to get specific language into a final bill to smooth the way for its $375 million plan to relocate its medical school to the downtown Buffalo health care corridor.

UB will have access to $35 million in state "seed" money for the move as proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, but the university also is looking for legal authority to enter into public-private partnership deals and to make it simpler and cheaper to borrow for the downtown project. Officials said talks are continuing on that matter.

The tentative tuition agreement also calls for a 10 percent annual increase for out-of-state students, according to lawmakers in the Assembly and State Senate who were briefed on the deal.

The tuition increase affects only the 21 SUNY campuses offering four-year degrees. Those campuses are home this year to 175,000 students. Community colleges are not part of the increase plan.

Gone was a request by UB and the three other campus centers at Stony Brook, Binghamton and Albany to charge a higher "differential" tuition level to compensate for what they say are higher expenses than the other schools in the 64-campus system. But the four university centers will be permitted to charge a $75-per-student fee each year, which officials were not technically calling a differential tuition hike.

Assemblywoman Deborah Glick, chairwoman of the Assembly Higher Education Committee, said the state also agreed not to cut aid to SUNY while students are being asked to pay higher tuition. In the past the state has used tuition increases as cover for cutting state aid to the system.

Glick, D-Manhattan, said the deal does not contain specific language to keep the state from raiding the SUNY proceeds, an Albany tradition that sends tuition proceeds to the state's general fund for budget-balancing purposes instead of the campuses. But Cuomo has publicly vowed to end that practice.

"One has to rely on the governor's intentions," Glick said, noting that Cuomo at recent forums on SUNY has committed to sending any tuition proceeds to SUNY.

"One has to assume that the governor understands that if the tuition is going up and he's agreed to a maintenance of effort, the money that goes for tuition has to go to the schools and that the maintenance of effort means he can't steal it out the back door. One has to assume the governor will keep his word."

The Governor's Office declined to comment. UB officials also declined to comment until a deal is officially announced by the governor and Legislature.

The tuition hike agreement also protects some students who qualify for the maximum $5,000 award under the state's Tuition Assistance Program. Tuition levels that exceed the maximum TAP award would not apply to those students.

About 14,000 SUNY students receive the maximum TAP award, while about 106,000 get no TAP assistance. For those between no aid and the maximum award, some percentage of the tuition increase should be partially covered by TAP payments, though that would vary by income levels.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher declined to comment.

The SUNY board and the Student Assembly have backed a "rational" tuition plan that would increase SUNY tuition at predictable, annual levels instead of the spikes that have occurred over the decades, with years of no increases followed by single-year hikes of more than 30 percent. But some student groups have opposed the measure, saying it will price some students out of college.

Backing of the tuition plan by various groups has been contingent upon guarantees that additional tuition proceeds do not get swept into the state's general fund. SUNY says it wants the new money to hire more full-time professors, reduce class sizes and restore programs that have been cut over the past three years of state funding cuts to the SUNY system.

The SUNY plan has morphed considerably over the past couple of years since UB proposed its UB 2020 initiative, which originally was a massive, $5 billion development effort at all three of its campuses. That plan was scaled down this year to a less ambitious move to a downtown Buffalo medical campus, which officials say will help bring thousands of temporary and permanent jobs to the city.

Lawmakers differed Tuesday night over whether UB still needs additional provisions in the final SUNY bill, which could be voted on as early as today.

Glick said UB is already in line for $35 million in funding proposed by Cuomo to help pay for the medical school move. "They can do what they want with the medical school. That's up to them," she said.

But Sen. Mark Grisanti, a Buffalo Republican, said more is needed for UB. "They're fine with the tuition and other components, but they need language in order to move the medical campus," he said of wording in a yet-to-emerge bill.

"I'm confident that's going to happen," he added.

"That will get done," said Sen. George Maziarz, a Newfane Republican.

e-mail: tprecious@buffnews.com

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