Another round of tuition hikes could take place next year now that the CUNY Board of Trustees overwhelmingly approved, at a November 23 meeting, a budget request that allows for a rise in tuition at CUNY’s senior colleges. Any move to increase tuition would not be decided, CUNY officials said, until they are more certain of the level of state funding the University will receive in 2016.
The Professional Staff Congress has long opposed funding CUNY through tuition increases, which have been used since the early 1990s to offset declining public investment.
Just days before the Board of Trustees meeting, nearly 50 people lined up to speak at the board’s public budget hearing — many of them to register their opposition to any proposed increase in tuition.
“CUNY senior college students already shoulder almost half the cost of the senior college operating budget,” said PSC Secretary Nivedita Majumdar, testifying at the November 19 budget hearing. “Raising tuition becomes an excuse for public disinvestment,” she said.
In-state tuition for the current academic year at CUNY’s senior colleges is $6,330, more than four times the amount charged New York residents in the 1990-91 academic year.
In 2011, state lawmakers passed a measure called SUNY 2020, which allows CUNY and SUNY to increase tuition by $300 per year, per student, over the course of five years. SUNY 2020, which expires in July, was pitched as a way to fund new initiatives; instead, the majority of revenue generated by increased tuition has been used to fund existing services and other expenses, including increased utility costs. Yet any revenue generated by tuition increases comes at a price for CUNY because of the high percentage of students who receive subsidies through the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). The SUNY 2020 law requires CUNY to cover the gap between the maximum TAP award and tuition costs for students enrolled through TAP. In this fiscal year, the cost to the University for covering that gap is estimated at $49 million.
SUNY officials are also seeking permission to raise tuition at the state colleges. SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher is lobbying to extend SUNY 2020, which would allow an additional round of tuition increases at SUNY, where the maximum number of increases allowed by the law has already been reached.
Earlier this summer, the state legislature almost unanimously passed “maintenance of effort” (MOE) legislation that would guarantee future funding for mandatory costs increases for utilities, rent, supplies and collective bargaining. (UPDATE: After the print edition of Clarion went to press, Governor Andrew Cuomo vetoed the MOE.)
“The governor needs to make an investment in CUNY. That investment translates into a quality education for working-class and poor students across the city,” PSC First Vice President Mike Fabricant told Clarion.
More Tuition Increases
The University should not “effectively be kept afloat” by tuition increases on students “who can least afford [them],” Fabricant said. “The state can afford a necessary investment to sustain and improve CUNY,” he added.
At the November 23 Board of Trustees meeting, CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken said the University needed to reach “a fair settlement” on outdated labor contracts. The PSC’s contract with CUNY expired in 2010. Funding for those contracts, he explained, comes from three sources: state and city appropriations, reallocations in the existing budget and tuition.
“People can disagree about choices that should be made, but I don’t believe they can dispute the possible sources and availability of funding,” Milliken said.
Missing from CUNY’s budget request, however, is an explicit line-item amount to fund a new PSC-CUNY contract; instead the projected costs for collective bargaining were labeled “TBD” (to be determined).
“CUNY chose to request an extension of the tuition hike instead of requesting greater state funding, [confirming] that the University is consenting to inadequate public funding,” said Joseph Awadjie, chair of CUNY’s University Student Senate and a voting member of the board. “I know that I speak for the vast majority of students when I say that we are frustrated and disappointed at the budget request.” The University Student Senate has voted twice this year to reject the plan known as “rational tuition,” which has effectively regularized tuition increases via SUNY 2020.
Awadjie, along with trustee Charles Shorter, voted against the budget request. CUNY’s budget request will now be submitted to the executive offices of the state and city government for approval. In mid-January, Governor Cuomo will release his executive budget; the state’s fiscal budget — including its appropriation for CUNY — is expected to be finalized by April.