Worried about paying for college?

State Sen. James Seward, R-Milford, and his Republican colleagues have a plan, although some Democrats are less than enthused by it.

Under the GOP proposal, if your child wants to attend a State University of New York school, you would be able to pay in advance and lock in tuition at today's prices.

According to Seward's spokesman, Jeff Bishop, SUNY tuition is $4,660 a year, up from $4,350 last year.

``This program is a win for students and their families, a win for our SUNY campuses, and a win for New York,'' Seward wrote in an e-mail to The Daily Star. ``Investment in a college education is a major expense for students and their parents. By adding some predictability to that cost, more middle-class families can plan for their future today.''

Bishop said Tuesday that details of the plan are being worked out, but as proposed, it would allow parents of children who are younger than 14 to enroll in a savings program to attend a SUNY school.

Their money would be invested directly in the SUNY system, allowing the universities to make campus improvements, he said.

Families would not have to immediately select which SUNY school they prefer, and if for some reason, the student did not attend a SUNY school, much of the family's money would be returned, he said.

If the student opted out, there might a withdrawal penalty, Bishop said. Schools would also have the option of terminating the contract under certain conditions.

``There are about 17 other states that have plans something like this, and the Senate Republican conference is studying them,'' he said.

Unlike many college-savings plans, this one does not rely on the stock market, Seward wrote.

The state senator stated that in contrast to Democrats, he and his GOP conference are working to shore up the SUNY system.

``The governor and his fellow Democrats saw fit to raid SUNY of tuition-increase funds to pay down the state's deficit,'' he wrote. ``My Republican colleagues and I in the Senate want to be sure these dollars, which rightfully belong to SUNY campuses, are returned.''

State Assemblyman Bill Magee, D-Nelson, said Seward's interpretation of the politics is misleading. Under previous administrations, all of the revenue from SUNY tuition increases went into the general funds, whereas this time, 20 percent will go to the campuses, he said.

Magee declined to characterize the Republican plan because he was unsure of its details, but he said people who want to go to college and their families should be helped.

A spokeswoman for Gov. David Paterson was critical of the proposal's long-term effects on the SUNY system.

``These kind of structures should never be looked at as a way of providing near-term fiscal relief for the participating institutions, as they only create a hole down the road when the students arrive and the funds have been spent,'' said Marissa Shorenstein.

The proposal came out last week as state legislators and Paterson try to complete a budget by the April 1 deadline.

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