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March 30, 2009

My Turn: Funding SUNY an investment in our future

This week's "My turn" column is by Nancy Kleniewski, president of the State University College at Oneonta.

In the face of an impending state fiscal crisis last year, the State University of New York Board of Trustees and the SUNY Student Assembly endorsed a tuition increase to lessen the impact of cuts in state support to the SUNY system.

Our students and their families showed their willingness to shoulder a large share of the financial burden to ensure that SUNY would have the resources necessary to offer residents of New York state access to a high-quality educational experience, today and into the future.

However, under the state deficit-reduction agreements approved in February, 90 percent of the recent tuition increase was taken for the state's general fund, leaving only 10 percent for SUNY to use for educational purposes.

Under Governor Paterson's budget proposal for next year, 80 percent of the $620 tuition increase will go to the state and only 20 percent to SUNY.

Though the additional funds will undoubtedly help the state address its immediate budgetary shortfall, is the state's appropriation of the SUNY tuition increase really what's best for our students and for the future of our state?

On a recent visit to Albany, I attended a luncheon with leaders of the state university system. The invited guests included nearly 90 of our state representatives, all of whom are graduates of our state's system of public higher education.

They have heard a clear message from our students that diverting tuition payments to fund other state programs is a breach of trust.

As more New York state residents turn to public education during the economic downturn, SUNY has the opportunity to develop the future leaders of our state. Yet, SUNY is being denied the very funding that these residents have provided.

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