More than 40,000 students are urging Governor Cuomo to sign legislation to protect educational quality at New York’s two public university systems, the City University of New York (CUNY) and the State University of New York (SUNY). Postcards signed by the students were delivered to the governor’s office on Friday, November 20 by a coalition of groups, including the PSC, CUNY University Student Senate (USS) and the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG).
The “Maintenance of Effort” (M.O.E.) bill, passed by a near-unanimous votes in the state Senate and Assembly, will soon be delivered to the governor for his signature. It would stabilize state funding for SUNY and CUNY by supporting annual projected increases to operating costs such as supplies and equipment, utilities and rent. Without state support for these normal operating expenses, cash-strapped campuses have been forced to use increased tuition to maintain current programming instead of to expand mentorship opportunities, improve counseling, and strengthen advisement—investments proven to improve student outcomes.
“It’s not the responsibility of students like me to pay to keep the lights on and our classrooms heated. These tuition increases were supposed to be invested in student academic programs, services and faculty. That was the promise of SUNY 2020 and that promise has been broken,” said Ermida Koduah, a student at the University at Albany.
“With SUNY 2020, the state promised to maintain its support to CUNY and SUNY and not use the big tuition hikes to fill budget holes. But it hasn’t worked out that way. Students are paying more – $1,500 in just five years. Yet, with inflation, per-student state support has been reduced. Governor Cuomo must sign the Maintenance of Effort bill now,” said Alex Bornemisza, student at Buffalo State College and NYPIRG chairperson.
In 2011, the NYSUNY2020 law enacted $1,500 in tuition hikes over five years with the stated purpose of enhancing education at CUNY and SUNY, not to cover unfunded operating costs. Now, with the law set to expire in 2016, CUNY and SUNY are calling for more tuition hikes.
“I think we can agree that CUNY and SUNY students have paid their share of incremental tuition over the past five years. As we enter the fifth and, hopefully, the last year of planned incremental tuition increases, students deserve to see the state hold their end of the bargain by funding the mandatory costs we all thought would have been covered when the incremental tuition plan was adopted,” said Chika Onyejiukwa, Hunter College student and vice chair for legislative affairs for CUNY USS.
The students were backed by faculty who argued that a signature from the governor on the M.O.E. bill would help ensure that CUNY and SUNY students have access to the best possible faculty and staff and improve full-time faculty-to-student ratios so students can have more individual attention from professors.
“Everybody wins with this legislation. That’s why it received support from legislators in every corner of the state and both sides of the aisle,” said Professional Staff Congress President Barbara Bowen, Ph.D. “With stable annual funding for basic operating costs, CUNY and SUNY will be able to sustain high-quality college education, and New Yorkers across the state will have enhanced opportunity for an affordable college degree.”
“UUP supports the students’ call to the governor to sign the Maintenance of Effort bill. This is a critical piece of legislation.” said United University Professions President Frederick E. Kowal, Ph.D.