When families sit down to work out their budgets for the coming year, it's helpful to know what their bills will be. Will their costs remain the same or will some rise? The State University of New York needs that kind of stability, as far as tuition is concerned, and so do the students attending the system's colleges.
SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher recently proposed reform of the tuition system. It's not something new; she has talked about it in the past with the Press-Republican Editorial Board. She thinks that both SUNY and its students need to know what is coming over the next five years — and that tuition increases should occur incrementally, not when the state is in panic mode.
No one wants to raise tuition. The families and students don't want to think it is necessary. These are state schools, after all, and doesn't the state have an obligation to educate its young people? Isn't that part of what our taxes are doing? The state legislators certainly don't want to raise tuition; that would never be a popular stance to explain to the constituents back home.
So what happens is that there is no tuition increase for years, until the situation is so dire that a double-digit increase is needed. That has been the pattern in the recent past.
Right around the same time Zimpher was calling for a reform of the tuition system that could result in incremental increases, Gov. Cuomo was releasing a budget that cut SUNY funding by 10 percent but did not call for higher tuition. That led to headlines across the state that the SUNY chancellor was pushing for a tuition increase, which resulted in some squirming in her office.
Zimpher wants to emphasize that what she wants is a better planning process, one that would allow students and families to budget ahead, so they know exactly what they will be paying each year while being educated in a state school.
"Our history isn't stable," she told the Press-Republican. "Our history has been very up and down. We increase tuition immensely, massively, in the hardest of economic times, and in the good times we don't do anything.
"When it's hardest for people to make a living and feed their families, we increase tuition. We want that leveled out."
Most businesses and many homes, agencies and municipalities have a five-year plan, so they know what is ahead and can plan their finances accordingly. Doesn't it make sense that students and their families should have that same advantage?