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Home » Clarion » 2011 » January 2011 » Viewpoint: Is a Tuition Increase the Answer?

Viewpoint: Is a Tuition Increase the Answer?


When PSC President Barbara Bowen testified before the Board of Trustees on CUNY’s proposed budget request for the next fiscal year, she strongly supported CUNY’s proposal for funding 250 new full-time faculty lines, but opposed the request for a tuition increase. Here are answers to some common questions about tuition, and the union’s position.

Q: How much is the tuition increase passed by the Board of Trustees?

A: In December, the trustees approved three separate tuition increase requests. If all three increases are enacted, tuition will be 10% higher next fall than the current semester.

The trustees have raised tuition by 5% for the Spring semester, to an annual rate of $4,830 for a full-time student at the senior colleges (a $230 annual increase) and $3,360 at the community colleges (or $150 per year). Grad students pay more, with annual costs rising by as much as $1,000. Tuition will go up another 2% in Fall 2011, to about $4,925 annually at senior colleges and about $3,425 at community colleges. The Board also authorized Chancellor Goldstein to impose an additional 3% increase if he determined that was necessary.

Q: Supporters of a tuition hike have said that no student in need will be hurt by the increase – is that true?

A: It is a myth that NY’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) protects all needy students. TAP offers very inadequate support to the 34% of CUNY students who attend part time – many of whom are in dire financial need – and none, as of last year, to graduate students. TAP’s arcane rules can also be especially harmful to CUNY students. CUNY has 20,000 independent students without dependents who are eligible for TAP but can receive only very small grants and have extremely low incomes. The tuition increase will hit them the hardest. TAP would have to be substantially reformed in order to cover the real needs of CUNY students – and the PSC is working on that.

Q: I understand why the union has opposed tuition increases in the past, but isn’t the need especially urgent this year?

A: There is a real need this year because of the cut to CUNY’s operating funds – a cut already being felt on the campuses. While total funds from the State this year actually increased, in part because of mandatory costs such as salary increases negotiated by the union, the decrease in operating aid has real effects.

But tuition increases will not solve the problem. New York State has systematically deprived CUNY of funds for decades, despite a few years of increases since 2000 achieved through intense advocacy. A tuition increase of any size that has been contemplated by the trustees will not make up for decades of planned poverty. In fact, the record shows that increased tuition is an invitation to the State to cut CUNY funds even further. New York State uses tuition increases to fill the hole created by withdrawal of public funds – but often doesn’t fill that hole completely. The result, when adjusted for inflation and number of students, is a net loss, not a gain, for CUNY.

Q: If tuition isn’t the solution to campus cuts this year, how should colleges handle the current budget shortfall?

A: A cut of the size CUNY has received this year should not require cuts to instruction. Several colleges built up reserves in the past few years, and are not imposing cuts at all. Even without reserve funds, however, colleges can make choices about handling the budget reduction in ways that do not hurt students, faculty or staff. Some colleges initially proposed reducing the number of sections, and then found alternatives when local union leaders pressed for a different approach. Other colleges called for “super-jumbo” sections, but agreed to a solution that made more sense pedagogically when challenged by department chairs and activists. On some campuses, faculty and staff have questioned why cars for multiple administrators, expensive landscaping of grounds and other administrative costs are not considered for cuts before any cuts to instruction.

Q: But in hard times, doesn’t everyone have to make sacrifices? Shouldn’t students pay a little more?

A: CUNY students have already made sacrifices to pay for college. Tuition increased by 15% in 2009 and many struggle financially to be able to stay in school. One student testified that she missed two rent payments to pay tuition, but that she won’t be able to continue that much longer. A 5% increase to students on the edge is not trivial.

But it’s the logic of “shared sacrifice” that is bankrupt. CUNY students – like CUNY faculty and staff – should not be made to pay for a financial crisis we did not create. A tuition increase is a tax – a regressive one, imposed on some of the poorest people in the State.

The call for “shared sacrifice” is an attempt to shift the blame for the economic slowdown onto the public sector, as James Parrott writes on page 11. It was the same call that produced the proposal for furloughs last year. By rejecting austerity for our students and ourselves, we are demanding an alternative to the poverty version of CUNY.

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