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Why a Tuition Increase is Not the Answer to CUNY’s Budget Needs

On Monday, November 22, CUNY’s Board of Trustees will vote on Chancellor Goldstein’s budget request for fiscal year 2010-2011.  The PSC strongly supports the position that now, when enrollment is at a record high, is the time for more—not less—public investment in CUNY.  We also support the request for funds to create 275 additional full-time faculty positions and improve Student Services.  We recognize the severity of the cut-backs on the campuses and are pressing the University to make choices this year that do not hurt students, faculty or staff.  But we oppose the call for an additional tuition increase. 

The tuition increase would not solve CUNY’s budget problems, would shift more of the cost of college to some of the country’s poorest college students, and would send the message to the State that New York can fix its structural deficit without addressing the underlying issues of taxation and an unprecedented concentration of wealth in the hands of a few.  There are alternatives to relying on increased tuition and alternatives for the State to cutting vital services.

A “new 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 budget.

Tuition hikes are not the answer. 

o       Tuition increases 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. 

o       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.

o       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. 

o       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.

We must demand an alternative to the poverty version of CUNY.

o       Acceptance of 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.

o       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 remains affordable.

o       Many in Albany have announced “no new taxes”—a tuition hike is just a tax in disguise, and a deeply regressive one.

Tuition increases cannot be defended on the grounds that they will not hurt. 

o       While some 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.

o       Community college 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.

o       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.

o       However consoling 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 strapped.

·         Rule changes adopted last year eliminated TAP grants for graduate students, whose proposed increase is the largest in real dollars.

·         Single independent 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.

Join the PSC in advocating for alternatives to taxing our students:

·         transparent, public college budgets

·         approaches to the budget shortfall this year that do not hurt students

·         alternatives in Albany to cutting vital public services

·         restoration of a fair tax system in New York, closing loopholes and fixing the structural deficit.



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