Gov. Andrew Cuomo advocated for a five-year extension of SUNY 2020, the law that has allowed State University of New York campuses to increase tuition annually for the past five years, in his 2016 State of the State and Executive Budget Address on Jan. 13.
Cuomo’s support is an important step toward passing an extension of the law, which is set to expire this spring and has been essential to Stony Brook University’s growth over the past five years.
SUNY 2020 allows SUNY schools to raise tuition by $300 every year for in-state students and up to 10 percent for out of state students. It also encompasses the SUNY 2020 Challenge Grant Program, which provides grants to university projects that encourage economic growth.
The law was a major win for SUNY in 2011, after SUNY experienced three consecutive years of cuts in state support totaling more than $600 million. At Stony Brook, tuition increases from SUNY 2020, and its grant program has funded 246 new faculty positions and provided $14 million in new student aid programs and $35 million toward the Medical and Research Translation Building, according to the university.
Stony Brook began pushing to renew SUNY 2020 as early as February last year, when students in the Undergraduate Student Government passed a resolution supporting the law.
“It’s really the top priority right now,” President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. said at a University Senate meeting on Oct. 5.
The selling point to students is what SUNY calls “rational tuition,” or moderate increases to tuition every year instead of large infrequent spikes. Before 2011, SUNY had increased tuition 13 times since 1963, the largest of which was a $950 increase to in-state tuition in 2003.
“It’s so important just to have the predictable tuition for students and their families,” Chief Deputy to the President Judith Greiman said.
But for Stony Brook, the law is also a significant factor in keeping pace with other state universities.
“We want to be among the top 20 public universities,” Stanley said in his 2015 State of the University Address.
Tuition is one of the key ways Stony Brook raises money to compete. In-state tuition in New York is among the lowest in the country, and far lower than top public universities. For example, the estimated cost of attendance at the University of California for an in-state student living on campus in 2015–2016 was $33,600, compared to $23,579 at Stony Brook University.
An important provision of SUNY 2020 was “maintenance of effort,” which stipulated the legislature would not reduce SUNY’s general operating fund in following budgets. This was to ensure that increased tuition would not be offset by decreased state support.
However, while the state has maintained its level of funding, it has not raised funding in the face of contracted salary increases and utility costs. In total, state-negotiated collective bargaining agreements will cost SUNY $131 million. Last year, that translated to an $8 million gap in Stony Brook’s budget.
The university made efforts to cut administrative costs to account for the gap, but academic departments took the brunt of the difference, reducing the number of new faculty hires.
“The number of new faculty hired was much less than we anticipated or needed,” University Senator and Sociology professor Norman Goodman said.
The legislature took action this year to increase SUNY funding by passing a new maintenance of effort bill that would include the costs of salary increases and utilities. It passed the assembly and senate with near-unanimous support, but was vetoed by the governor on Dec. 11.
In his veto memo, Cuomo wrote “… the issues raised by this legislation are better dealt with in the context of negotiations for the upcoming State budget.” He argued that while the maintenance of effort provisions in SUNY 2020 will expire in 2016, the bill would have extended those provisions and made them permanent.
Cuomo did not specify in his legislative agenda if he would support expanding the maintenance of effort requirement when seeking to extend SUNY 2020 this year.
Although the governor’s support puts significant momentum behind extending SUNY 2020, doing so will be part of the budget negotiation process, which normally concludes by March 31.
To keep pressure on the legislature, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher launched a campaign in December called Stand With SUNY, which calls for lawmakers to increase SUNY funding. In particular, the campaign seeks to increase the SUNY Investment and Performance Fund, which established this year’s state budget with $18 million.
Stony Brook received $1.75 million from this year’s fund on Jan. 11 for efforts to increase its four-year graduation rate from 51 percent to 60 percent by 2020. SUNY is looking for a $50 million increase to the Investment Fund in the 2016–2017 budget.
As to what priorities an extension of SUNY 2020 would address if passed, Greiman said the university is currently in the process of strategizing.
“We’re in the process of kind of refining what will we very specifically do in the next round,” Greiman said. “But it will most definitely be around growing the research, growing the academic development efforts and growing the degree completion efforts that we’ve already started. It’s almost like this garden has been planted, and now we need to really let it grow.”
Correction: Jan. 27, 2016
A previous version of this story erroneously reported that the SUNY Investment and Performance Fund established last year’s state budget with $18 million and that Stony Brook received $1.75 million from last year’s fund on Jan. 11 for efforts to increase its four-year graduation rate from 51 percent to 60 percent by 2020. These dollar amounts represent this year’s state budget and fund, not last year’s state budget and fund.