Report on NYS Assembly Higher Education Hearing to Examine College Affordability

ALBANY - (Dec. 12. 2012, 10:00 a.m., Hearing Room B, LOB)

Today the Assembly Committee on Higher Education held a hearing to examine the impact of increasing college tuition on students. Chair Glick was in attendance, along with Assembly members Jaffee, Butler, and Barron.

Chair Glick began the hearing by stating that testimony should focus on the issues of student financial aid, student debt, and how to keep graduates from leaving New York. Glick said that both public and private schools need to work together to address these problems.

Nancy Zimpher, Chancellor of the SUNY system, was the first to testify. She stated that SUNY schools have 468,000 students, and have seen enrollment grow by 4.4% in the last year. Zimpher added that enrollment in SUNY community colleges has grown by 14%.

Zimpher stated that "SUNY is the largest center of comprehensive education in the country," as well as "the lowest in cost in the Northeast." She also touted SUNY's current 29% minority student enrollment, "an all-time high."

On costs of tuition, Zimpher explained that the law allows SUNY to raise their tuition by $300 a year. She said this "low sum" is absolutely necessary for the retention of staff and maintenance of facilities. The Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) ensures that all those eligible will have any tuition increases covered, according to Zimpher. She added that TAP will provide $180 million to 6,500 SUNY students this year.

Zimpher announced the SUNY Smart Track campaign. She said the new program will help reduce students' debt through counseling, citing the 6,000 SUNY students who defaulted on their loans last year. The program will "make the cost of college transparent," Zimpher stated, after saying that the average SUNY student graduates with $22,500 in debt.
Zimpher finished her testimony by announcing that SUNY will be hiring 200 new staff members by the end of 2013. She said these hires are possible due to $6 million in savings SUNY recently achieved through "an innovative, system-wide, resource realignment."

Chair Glick asked if less TAP-eligible students have enrolled in 2012. Zimpher answered in the negative. Glick inquired as to how the 200 new hires will be distributed among SUNY campuses. Zimpher answered that "each campus lets us know of their need."

Assembly member Butler asked how small schools "account for smaller enrollment and therefore less money to utilize." Zimpher responded that SUNY had a "broken" system of resource allocation, but the new system will help all campuses find savings.

When Chair Glick asked if SUNY had considered reducing their number of campuses, Zimpher responded in the negative. Zimpher explained that there is "usually" a SUNY campus within 30 miles of any student in the state, and SUNY "takes pride in being able to serve each community."

Assembly member Jaffee asked if SUNY should consider diminishing its research requirements for professors so they may better be able to focus on teaching. Zimpher answered in the negative.

Butler asked Zimpher if there would ever be "professor-sharing" among campuses. Zimpher said it was something SUNY was considering.

A panel representing City University of New York (CUNY) was next to testify . The panel was comprised of Marc Shaw, Senior Vice Chancellor for Budget, and Matthew Sapienza, Associate Vice Chancellor for Budget. Shaw began his testimony by mentioning the 3 CUNY students who were killed as a result of Hurricane Sandy.

Shaw stated that CUNY has hired 1,700 faculty members in the last decade. He said their 2014 budget calls for 425 more employees, bringing the total CUNY faculty to over 7,700. CUNY has over 230,000 students, according to Shaw.

On the subject of TAP, Shaw said that CUNY has given out $5 million in aid this year, and is planning on giving out $10 million in 2013. Overall, "6 out of 10 CUNY students attend for free after receiving aid," said Shaw, adding that "80% of CUNY graduates pay taxes in New York."

Chair Glick asked if undocumented students are an issue at CUNY. Shaw answered emphatically in the affirmative, citing the "6-7,000 undocumented students" currently enrolled at CUNY.

A panel representing private schools was next to testify. The panel members were Laura Anglin, President of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, Anthony Collins, President of Clarkson University, and Susan Scrimshaw, President of the Sage Colleges.

The panel listed pertinent numbers, such as the 4.6% increase in private college tuition from 1980-90, compared with a 2.4% rise from 1990-2000. Mrs . Anglin used this fact to illustrate how private institutions are controlling their costs. Mrs. Anglin also stated that 90% of students in private colleges are receiving financial aid. She said that $220 million in TAP dollars has been provided by the State to these students.

Overall, the panel felt that the cost of college was more transparent with the passing of legislation mandating that each college website have a "net price calculator." They explained that this feature gives families the "real" cost of college.
The panel finished their testimony by announcing that Clarkson University has increased their financial aid by 66%, and that "Sage College staff salaries are the second lowest in the state."

Assembly member Barron inquired as to the average cost of tuition in private schools. She was told it is $22,000.

Matt Whelan, Associate Provost for Enrollment at Stony Brook University, was the next to testify. His comments were highlighted by his announcement of 200 new professors hired at Stony Brook last year, and his assertion that Stony Brook "exceeds the amount of aid we lawfully have to provide."

Assembly member Barron asked what the total student population of Stony Brook is. Whelan responded that there are 16,000 undergraduates.

Jackie Hayes, representing the Save Our SUNY Coalition, was the next to testify. Her comments were brief, centered on the budget cuts that SUNY has implemented recently. Hayes mentioned the many departments that were cut altogether, and finished her testimony by saying, "operating costs at SUNY have been slashed 33% over the last 3 years, and yet tuition keeps rising?"

Kevin Stump, Higher Education Program Coordinator for the NY Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG), and David Rosenberg, a student from CUNY Brooklyn, were the last to testify. Their testimonies both stated that the rise in college tuition far outpaces the $5,000 per student TAP allotments.

Esteban Maccera / New York StateWatch