A plan for yearly, modest rate hikes in tuition for the State University of New York gives SUNY and students what is lacking in the present method of setting tuition: predictability.
Tuition for the nearly half-million students at the 64 campuses is controlled now by the state Legislature. Rate hikes are sporadic and subject to political pressures. The last rate hike in 2009 brought tuition to $4,970 a year.
But SUNY did not get all of the rate hike. Most of it was "swept" into the state's general fund rather than going to SUNY, an indirect way of taxing SUNY students to fund state operations.
Over the same time, state aid to SUNY has been slashed.
SUNY trustees are seeking more independence and greater control over tuition with a reasonable plan that would allow them to raise tuition gradually. Legislators have balked at surrendering control over tuition, but SUNY addresses that with parameters to be set by lawmakers.
The "rational" tuition plan proposed by SUNY would permit 5.5 percent hikes annually for the next five years. The proposal will provide greater stability for SUNY with knowledge of what to expect in tuition to meet increasing costs.
Parents and students would also have a better idea of what to expect and plan for an affordable college education. Even at the higher rates, a SUNY education would cost significantly less than private colleges and well below other state university systems.
SUNY Canton President Joseph L. Kennedy and SUNY Potsdam President John F. Schwaller said the incremental increases would provide financial stability and allow for predictable, rational increases.
A 5.5 percent rate hike would amount to about $273 next year, compared to a $620 jump in 2009. But SUNY was allowed to keep only a small percentage of the 2009 increase with most of it disappearing into state coffers. SUNY trustees propose setting up a separate fund to retain all of the increases for SUNY.
SUNY campuses have cut staff, increased class size, reduced course offerings and instituted hiring freezes to adjust to state aid cuts. However, if it is to continue offering a quality education, SUNY needs dependable, sustainable revenues that can be provided through the trustees' proposal.