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Opinion

June 15, 2011

Rational tuition still needed

Five years ago, we asked the state Legislature to support a "rational tuition" plan for the State University of New York system.

"In 2003, SUNY tuition was hiked about 25 percent at one time. Before that, tuition was raised for 1995-96. That means the Legislature left tuition alone for eight years and then jacked it up a whopping 25 percent. That's not fair to anyone," we wrote in December 2006.

Nancy Kleniewski and Candace Vancko, the presidents of the State University College at Oneonta and the State University College of Technology at Delhi, respectively, addressed the subject more recently in a guest commentary.

"After only one increase in more than a decade, the Legislature raised tuition 14 percent in 2009," Kleniewski and Vancko wrote in March. "Students and their families never saw it coming."

Rational tuition didn't make it through the state legislature in 2003, or any year thereafter. But it's back on the table in 2011, thanks in part to legislation proposed by Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and Assembly member Crystal D. Peoples-Stokes, D-Buffalo, which would allow SUNY schools to increase tuition by up to 5.5 percent each year over five years.

This plan is competing with the governor's proposal, which would allow university centers such as those in Albany and Buffalo to raise tuition by as much as 8 percent, while holding increases to 5 percent at other campuses.

Critics have argued that both plans allow for too great a potential increase. Under Seward's plan, a student at SUNY Oneonta entering her fifth year of study (a not-uncommon practice) could find herself paying 25 percent more than she did as a freshman.

This still sounds better than having a sudden tuition hike sprung on you in the middle of your college career.

We could quibble over the numbers, but we don't think that's the most important question here. Whether it's 5 percent, 5.5 percent or some other figure, the important thing is to give prospective students a reasonable idea of what they will pay for their education.

Today, the SUNY system has some of the lowest in-state tuition of state schools nationwide. This is good news for New York students, but it has left some colleges struggling to make ends meet. Seward's bill would also protect tuition revenues from being swept into the state's general fund, making the colleges less vulnerable to cuts.

Our colleges are extremely important locally, and we want to see them _ and their students _ succeed. Rational tuition would be a key step toward making SUNY schools more attractive to students, and more financially stable.

Whether it's the governor's plan, or Seward's bill, we hope the state Legislature will find a way to move forward with rational tuition without delay.

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