Op-Eds

Student groups demand lawmakers make college affordable

Last week the New York Public Interest Group unveiled a coalition of over 350 student groups and organizations calling on the New York State Legislature and the Governor to increase state aid to the City University of New York  and the State University of New York, reject an extension of the “rational tuition” hikes, and freeze tuition at the current 2015-2016 academic year rates. Nearly 40 clubs signed onto the letter at Queens College, including the QC Dream Team, the Hakuna Matata Club and the Caribbean Association to name a few.

Since the SUNY 2020 legislation was signed into law in 2011, the state’s so-called “rational tuition” policy has caused tuition at public colleges to skyrocket – increasing by over 30 percent in just five years. At the same time, State funding for SUNY and CUNY has remained largely flat over the last several years, even while the cost to maintain SUNY and CUNY’s existing services has increased by nearly $200 million. The State has made up the difference using tuition dollars. So-called “rational tuition” has merely shifted the burden of operating New York’s public college from the State to college students and their families.

Nationwide, student loan debt is currently over $1 trillion and it is estimated to be $2 trillion by 2025. Studies show that students burdened with student loan debt are less likely to start a business or own a home. This can create a ripple effect where current debt hamstrings future wealth growth—the effect is even greater for low-income students and students of color. But with tuition increases outpacing income growth, and the state’s stagnant support for public higher education, college affordability is eroding quickly.

As students are facing more years of tuition hikes, thousands are speaking out. In December, student groups from across the state delivered 28,000 petitions to Albany urging the Governor and Legislature to freeze tuition. In February, over 450 college students, faculty and staff converged on our Capitol for meetings with close to one hundred legislators.

The State is not facing the deficits they were in 2011, and according to State Comptroller DiNapoli, New York has a $1 billion surplus this year.  And now, over 350 student groups are calling on the state legislature and Governor Cuomo to reverse its policy of shifting the cost of public college from the State to students and their families and instead keep public college tuition at current levels and increase state support to public higher education.

After five years of consecutive tuition hikes, students are paying more than their fair share for higher education, while the State has not. With the State’s April 1st budget deadline looming, will Governor Cuomo, listen to the thousands of voices across the state represented by those student groups and organizations calling for a tuition freeze and more investment in public higher education or will he continue the trend of state divestment from public higher education?

Tiffany Brown is a project coordinated with NYPIRG.

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