Cusick: Governor needs to protect New York’s colleges and universities

Report warns that tuition could increase by as much as $1,000
January 13, 2003

It will be even harder for New York’s students to go to college this year if Governor Pataki and his appointees on the SUNY Board of Trustees have their way. The Trustees recently approved increasing tuition at most community colleges, and all signs point to a significant tuition hike proposal for four-year colleges and universities. In fact, the New York Daily News, has reported that the tuition hike could increase by up to $1,000 a year.

For the past eight years, the governor has attempted to slash aid to SUNY and CUNY students, proposing $1.8 billion in cuts to higher education during his tenure. In fact, New York received a failing grade when it comes to college affordability, according to a November 2002 study issued by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education.

Between 1990 and 2000, taxpayer support of higher education decreased by 22 percent, while costs and fees skyrocketed by 97 percent at New York’s four-year public colleges and universities, according to a study by the New York Public Interest Research Group. Average tuition and fees at a four-year state college or university are already $4,062 a year – making SUNY the 14th most expensive public university system in the nation, according to NYPIRG.

It’s important to remember that the last time tuition was increased, attendance at SUNY and CUNY colleges declined by an estimated 30,000 full- and part-time students over several years.

The College of Staten Island provides many of our neighbors and family members with a quality, affordable institution for higher education. College of Staten Island students and families can’t afford a tuition hike – especially now in our struggling economy.

Just last year, the governor attempted to withhold one-third of all state Tuition Assistance Program payments until graduation. Fortunately, the Assembly saw through that fiscal gimmick, which would have shifted the cost of state government onto the credit lines of poor students.

These difficult fiscal times will require some tough choices. However, preventing students from realizing their dream of a college education is shortsighted. A quality higher education will prepare students for the jobs of the future and, in turn, will be an engine for economic growth. If we want to prepare our kids for a modern world and strengthen the economy, we must make higher education affordable and accessible for all students.

I remain committed to improving our colleges and universities, and keeping a college degree within reach of all New Yorkers. During the upcoming budget negotiations and the legislative session, I will work to protect our investment in higher education, and hold the line on SUNY and CUNY tuition.