Why a Tuition Increase is Not the Answer to CUNY’s Budget Needs
normal” has developed in response to the recession, and asking
students to pay more while the State is not held to paying its
fair share is part of it. In the new normal, people who did not
create the recession and who are suffering most because of its
persistent effects are the ones who pay its price. CUNY’s
budget proposal is right not to accept further scarcity for
CUNY—but wrong to visit that scarcity on students rather than
insisting on full funding from the State. The proposed tuition
increase will shatter some students’ chances of achieving a
college degree. We believe there is a better way to approach the
hikes are not the answer.
at any level that is feasible at CUNY will never be enough to
provide full funding to the University. While the idea that a
5% tuition increase could stave off further cut-backs might have
some initial appeal, the real problem is public funding.
New York State
could do a much better job at supporting public higher
education—even in the current economic climate. In 2008 and 2009
(years that included federal stimulus money) there were only ten
states with records worse than New York’s in providing State
support to higher education per $1,000 of personal income. CUNY
cannot be an engine of economic resurgence and of equality for
the state with this low level of investment.
It is not
unrealistic to press for a solution that relies on more than
budget cuts. The State’s budget constraints are profound, but
they are not irreversible. They could be significantly relieved
by even a temporary tax surcharge on those earning more than
$500,000, such as was enacted in 2009—without causing the
richest residents to move out of state.
New York could
also make progress on closing its budget gap by gradually
restoring the top tax bracket, or closing loopholes in corporate
taxes, or even fully collecting the personal income tax that is
owed, which was estimated at $2.3 billion in 2002. The PSC will
continue to advocate vigorously for a more progressive solution
for New York than budget cuts to essential services and
increases in student costs.
demand an alternative to the poverty version of CUNY.
tuition increases for our students is acceptance of the paradigm
that leads to austerity for us and for the University. It lies
behind the shift to “super-jumbo classes,” fewer course
sections, fewer people doing more work in Student Services. The
logic that says CUNY students must “sacrifice” and pay a little
more is the same logic that says CUNY faculty and staff must
sacrifice and accept furloughs or worse.
If we believe that
a college education is an essential service—especially in this
economic moment—we should do everything we can to ensure that it
Many in Albany
have announced “no new taxes”—a tuition hike is just a tax in
disguise, and a deeply regressive one.
increases cannot be defended on the grounds that they will not
students and some families may be able to absorb the 5% increase
proposed for the remainder of this year and the 2% increase
proposed for next year, many are not so fortunate. More than
half of all CUNY undergraduates—54%—come from households with
annual incomes of $30,000 or less. An increase of $115 in
the spring semester is significant.
tuition at CUNY is among the one or two highest in the country.
According to the College Board, the average tuition at public
two-year colleges nationwide is now $2,544, or 25% less than the
$3,360 level proposed for CUNY.
The increase in
graduate tuition will also have a potentially devastating
effect, with no TAP support and often little other funding
available, especially at the Master’s level. Many graduate
students who teach at CUNY will be doubly hit by the
University’s budget actions, as some have already seen their
adjunct teaching reduced, and will now face higher tuition. A
large part of CUNY’s attractiveness for research-active faculty
is the opportunity to work with graduate students who bring new
energy to their disciplines. The tuition increase would be
particularly damaging for them.
it may be to tell ourselves that TAP will cover the poorest
students, that simply isn’t true.
There is little
TAP assistance for the 30.4% of CUNY students who attend part
time, even though these are often the students most economically
adopted last year eliminated TAP grants for graduate students,
whose proposed increase is the largest in real dollars.
students without dependents—the working poor—are subject to an
eligibility schedule for TAP that has not been adjusted since
1994 and limits them to a grant level of $3,035. TAP grants for
these students phase out entirely when their adjusted income
exceeds $17,500. This means that 20,000 independent students at
CUNY receiving TAP have extremely low incomes and are limited to
very small grants. The tuition increase will hit them the
hardest—and TAP will not protect them.
PSC in advocating for alternatives to taxing our students:
public college budgets
the budget shortfall this year that do not hurt students
Albany to cutting vital public services
a fair tax system in New York, closing loopholes and fixing the