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.
Carl Hayden, chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees, said recently, "The door of the great public university of the state of New York is slowly swinging shut and we will not be able to honor our public purpose if we must, in this period of extreme stress, turn away our own sons and daughters."
In the bigger picture, which is often overlooked during fiscal crises, higher education is one of the best solutions to our state's economic difficulties.
SUNY colleges develop skilled workers whose innovations make our state competitive, entrepreneurs whose businesses bolster our economy, and leaders whose decisions make New York state one of the greatest in the nation.
Our SUNY colleges are vital to local economies, particularly outside of the state's metropolitan regions. In Oneonta, for example, SUNY Oneonta employs a work force of more than 1,250 and enrolls more than 5,800 students, all of whom purchase goods and services from businesses in Otsego County.
Our college has nearly 50,000 alumni and attracts more than 14,000 applicants annually, bringing visitors to our region who support our local economy. More importantly, our employees, alumni and students serve as community leaders, volunteers and helpful neighbors.
Our state university system is designed to serve the citizens of New York state by providing affordable access to a top-quality education.
We have the opportunity today to ensure that SUNY can continue to fulfill its mission for this and future generations of New Yorkers.
To do so, we must encourage our legislative leaders to take a long-term view, to see SUNY as an important investment, and to use 100 percent of the recent tuition increase for the good of our students, our local economy and our future.
Visit our website at www.oneonta.edu and follow the SUNY Oneonta Advocates link to learn how you can help. Let your voice be heard by our legislative leaders before it's too late.
To write for "My turn," contact Daily Star Publisher Tanya Shalor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 432-1000, ext. 214.