CUNY students, faculty bring up rising tuition costs before board of trustees

The CUNY board of trustees is in the process of reviewing their CUNY Fiscal Year 2017-18 University Budget Request. A calendar given out at the board of trustees’ public hearing on Wednesday, Oct. 19, stated that, “CUNY seeks an additional investment funds of $200.6 million for the university. This total includes $159.4 million for the senior colleges and $43.3 million for the community colleges.”

The draft of the request states that CUNY will self-fund $14.2 million of the budget through its Administrative Efficiencies Action Plan and asks for a “four year extension of the predictable tuition policy, with maximum annual increases $250 at the senior colleges and $100 at the community colleges.”

In June 2011, the board of trustees voted to include the Rational Tuition Plan in the budget request, which raised resident undergraduate tuition at senior colleges by $300 each academic year for five years—a 30.4 percent increase.

When the Rational Tuition Plan ended last year, the board of trustees along with Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed an extension to the plan, but New York State Legislature rejected the proposal in support of a tuition freeze for the fiscal year 2016-17.

With a proposal for an extension of the renamed Rational Tuition Plan for the fiscal year 2017-18, CUNY undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and alumni gathered for the public hearing held in Baruch College’s Newman Vertical Campus to express their growing concerns.

Limited to only three minutes, almost 30 representatives from Borough of Manhattan Community College, CUNY Professional Staff Congress, Hunter College, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, Lehman College, New York City College of Technology and York College testified in front of the majority of the board of trustees and other central CUNY administrators, including CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken.

The speakers touched on a range of issues, including how the rising cost of tuition is making higher education unaffordable, personal anecdotes about speaking to homeless college students about not being able to afford CUNY tuition and using illegal means to pay tuition. James Hoff, a BMCC English professor and alum of the CUNY Graduate Center, brought to light CUNY’s former history of being a free university.

“I want to focus on one troubling trend that I had noticed in my 15 years of teaching at CUNY and that is the fact that CUNY is slowly transforming itself from a publicly funded institution for the public good into a university funded by individual, private investors in the form of student tuition and fees,” said Hoff at the hearing.

“If these proposed tuition increases pass next week, CUNY will, in the first time in its history, become an institution in which the majority of revenue is generated through the collection of student tuition and fees. At this pace, unless we do something to reverse course, CUNY’s on track to become a fully private institution around 2040.”

Baruch’s Undergraduate Student Government President Daniel Dornbaum said that he does not believe the board will vote in favor of CUNY students and that he supports a tuition freeze, so the next step is to convince New York state legislators to invest in CUNY students.

“Students have one vote on the board of trustees and not to say that the argument with the board of trustees is useless, that’s not the case, but we only have that one vote so it’s very hard for us to fight tuition hikes on that level,” explained Dornbaum. “The next step is obviously with the state legislature and I think over the years USG has done a great job at making connections with their state representatives and linking student experience to what legislators are hearing and seeing up in Albany.”

Each February, Baruch USG joins CUNY University Student Senate on a trip to Albany to lobby state legislators at the New York State Association of Black and Puerto Rican Legislators Caucasus. There, students advocate for CUNY in convincing state legislators to freeze tuition.

“When the time comes, there will be press conferences and protests and lobbying efforts but right now the legislature is not in session so this a great time for USS and other students to reach out to their legislatures in the districts and meet with them while they’re still in [the city] and go to their office and make that connection early on so that when they’re up in Albany they hopefully will remember you and remember how passionate you were,” said Dornbaum.

The next meeting of the board of trustees will be held on Wednesday, Oct. 26 and will call for the final votes on the university budget request.