College students throughout New York state held banners protesting tuition hikes across highway overpasses, Nov. 6. The protesters, who were working with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), were stationed at a total of ten locations including the areas surrounding Syracuse University, Nassau Community College and the State Universities of Binghamton, Albany, New Paltz and Stony Brook.

Five Stony Brook students held their banner, which read, Gov. Pataki: No tuition hike, no SUNY cuts from an overpass over the eastward bound exit 60 of the Long Island Expressway.

The students involved in this statewide movement said that they are concerned that the newly re-elected Governor will propose to decrease SUNY funding and financial aid, and increase tuition.

Governor Pataki must not balance the state budget on the backs of college students who can already barely afford to continue their education already, Stony Brook senior Andrea Ogden said.

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Over the past 10 years, tuition costs have increased by an inflation-adjusted 97 percent, and funding for higher education has fallen by an inflation-adjusted 22 percent. New York’s community colleges are the fifth most expensive in the nation and public college’s in the state are presently the 14th most expensive.

I can’t afford a tuition hike or a financial aid cut, Stony Brook freshman Christine Tanaka said. I already work 25 hours a week to pay for college. If I have to pay even more, I may not be able to stay in college.

New York’s public college enrollment decreased by 29,000 the last time tuitions were increased.

The banner movement was developed because of rising concerns that the state will decrease higher education funding to compensate for the multi-billion dollar budget deficit projected for the coming year. Similar movements have been met with success in other states, such as Massachusetts.

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Shortly after the protest, Governor Pataki said that he would not raise tuition. The Project Coordinator of the Stony Brook chapter of NYPIRG, Melissa Morahan, said that she sees Pataki’s words as a mark of success.

The fact that he’s talking about tuition increases is a huge victory because students concerns are usually not at the forefront of politicians agendas, Morahan said.

Morahan said that the banners were held as part of a proactive campaign begun in response to rumors that Governor Pataki wanted to raise tuition. She said that this protest was held to get the movement against tuition hikes out to the media and the legislators. Morahan also said that she thinks that holding the protest the day after Election Day helped illustrate that higher education issues should be a priority.

Students are also planning letter-writing drives, rallies and trips to Albany to lobby against decreases in higher education funding, in addition to the banner-movement. Almost 700 New York-based student organizations have written a joint letter to policymakers protesting tuition increases and cuts to higher education and financial aid.

The Governor must not close off access to a quality, affordable college degree, especially with the economy as weak as it is, Stony Brook sophomore Rebecca Rivera said. A tuition hike, financial aid cuts and budget cuts to SUNY would be devastating to many New Yorkers.

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