January 28, 2010

EDITORIAL: Let colleges set tuitions

Common sense tells us that allowing each SUNY college to establish its own tuition rate would yield a much more equitable and responsible mechanism for each institution. We hope Gov. David Paterson's initiative to give that authority to each college receives the Legislature's backing.

With 64 campuses — 30 of them two-year community colleges — the state can scarcely make a case that equal tuition from school to school in each category serves students best.

Can $5,070 per year at Plattsburgh equal $5,070 per year at Geneseo, New Paltz and Binghamton? The number of programs varies from campus to campus. The number of employees varies. The standard of living varies.

Having the State University trustees ask for a tuition and then the Legislature approve it might make sense on one level: It might tend to spare students unwieldy leaps, as the Legislature would likely be inclined to want to keep expenses down.

However, competition for students within the system would do the same thing. Prospective students would surely be influenced in their selection between, say, Plattsburgh and Potsdam if the tuition at one school were far higher than at the other.

The biggest positive in allowing each campus to set its own tuition is that it would allow the school to be more responsive to its own needs. Costs don't accrue at each campus equally. Veteran faculties and staffs would cost more than young employees with little seniority. Liberal arts is a less expensive education to provide than many of the technologies or sciences.

And it would force each college to be more accountable for its own spending. Expenses would have to reflect potential income from tuitions, and a school can't charge a tuition outside the range of its competitors. Enforced thriftiness would prevail.

As it is now, whenever SUNY raises tuitions, the money goes into the state's general fund. SUNY doesn't even benefit from the increase. That means students don't benefit.

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