Last Wednesday, hundreds of CUNY and SUNY students across the state fled their minimum-wage jobs and summer internships to urge Gov. Andrew Cuomo to invest in higher education.
Students rallied in the hot July weather from Baruch College to East 25th Street, chanting, “No more broken promises!” while holding signs that read “Invest in CUNY, Invest in New York.”
“If the tuition is going up and additional revenue is being diverted to pay for budget gaps, not a lot of money is being used to enhance student services,” New York Public Interest Group Legislative Director Blair Horner told the AmNews.
Students enrolled in the SUNY system cover nearly 63 percent of the school’s operating costs. Proponents insisted that Cuomo sign the Maintenance of Effort Bill (MOE) to increase statewide aid for heating, building rentals and electrical costs in hopes of taking general upkeep off the tuition bill.
According to a 2015 report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a sociopolitical research tank, the cost of an average college tuition in New York at public four-year-universities has changed by 25.8 percent, or $1,495, since 2008.
“A few years ago, they were promised if they payed more in tuition, they would get enhanced services,” Horner said. “In our anecdotal evidence in some schools, people have not seen those benefits and complain about access to required classes and academic advisers.”
Minorities account for 75 percent of CUNY students and 54 percent live in households with a median income of $30,000. Cuomo’s billion-dollar 2015-2016 budget cuts affect CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, which provide additional academic advisement and fiscal services to low-income community college students, according to a report published in the CUNY Independent.
While the nationwide student loan debt steadily approaches $1.2 trillion, NYPIRG Chairperson and Buffalo State student Alex Bornemisza explained the MOE bill would decrease debt by eliminating inflationary costs.
“We have to worry about increased loads of debt by the time we graduate,” Bornemisza said. “It’s not like students are getting paid anymore themselves. It’s becoming a bigger and bigger burden, and [it’s] starting to lock people out of the higher education system who just can’t afford it.”
Along with being a volunteer at NYPIRG, Bornemisza is a part-time restaurant server at the upstate eatery Scotch N Sirloin. Bornemisza explained he pays for tuition at the expense of his health.
“I get less sleep because I need to work more,” Bornemisza said. “I know students who are working two or three jobs to make sure they can pay for school … It’s a traumatic experience.”
According to a 2015 CUNY Professional Staff Congress report, the proportion of state aid to students has fallen more than a quarter, dropping from 74 percent to a meager 53 percent.
Bornemisza, like other CUNY and SUNY undergraduates in need of state aid, felt the impending debt “hovering over them throughout their college career.”
Since 2011, the NY SUNY 2020 law has allowed tuition to increase by $300 a year. Tuition increases have reached $1,500 for the 2015-2016 academic year.