University at Buffalo: Reporter

Report on variable tuition: State Task Force recommends implementation

Reporter Editor
The New York State Temporary Task Force on Variable Campus-Based Tuition last week released a report recommending that the state legislature consider implementing variable tuition for SUNY.

If passed, the recommendation would allow individual campuses to determine their own tuition levels, within prescribed limits set by SUNY and the SUNY Board of Trustees. Funds raised by variable tuition would remain in that campus' budget.

The report is the result of several months of work by the task force, appointed by the governor in July and composed of 13 members representing SUNY, the New York State legislature and private industry, and chaired by SUNY Interim Chancellor John W. Ryan.

Variable tuition is not new to SUNY, according to the report. "The university has different tuition rates for graduates and undergraduates, professional schools and graduate schools, in-state and out-of-state students, two-year and four-year campuses. The SUNY community colleges already have variable campus-based tuition, within a ceiling established by the Board of Trustees."

Ryan noted that "The State University of New York is one of only seven public universities in the country that charges the same tuition to all undergraduates. Variable tuition has been a valuable tool for public colleges in many states that maintain broad access and quality."

The report notes that, "Universities in more than 30 states set their tuition by type of campus, or sector. These states typically set differing tuitions for research universities, comprehensive colleges, liberal arts campuses and community colleges. In two-thirds of these states, campuses within each sector are allowed to make adjustments or impose additional charges, usually within limits. In another dozen states, campuses set their own tuition based solely on market forces and costs. In almost all cases, campus tuition rates are subject to approval by university trustees or a state higher education panel."

Charging variable tuition rates would benefit the State University system in a number of ways, according to the task force. It would more accurately reflect the varying costs of serving students on different campuses; provide campuses with the needed flexibility to attract and retain new students; provide additional campus-based financial aid and student programs, and make campuses more accountable to students for overall costs.

Thomas F. Egan, chair of the SUNY Board of Trustees, said, "The findings of the task force complement the (State) University's broader plan to decentralize the governance of the University, attract and retain more students and return more management responsibility to the campuses."

In issuing its report, the task force noted that implementation of campus-based tuition should be guided by six principles to maximize the policy's effectiveness and minimize dislocations:

· Variable tuition should not be used as a mechanism to replace state assistance to SUNY.

· Funds raised by any campus through a variable tuition adjustment should remain in the budget of that campus.

· To support access, a variable tuition policy must anticipate the need to allocate some portion of any new revenues collected by a campus to student financial aid at that campus.

· There should be prescribed limits to a campus' discretion to recommend an increase or decrease in tuition.

· No in-state undergraduate tuition level should be allowed to exceed the maximum award under the Tuition Assistance Program unless resources equivalent to TAP are available to cover the excess.

· Four years after implementation of a variable tuition policy, the SUNY Trustees should submit a report to the Legislature on the policy's results and its impact on SUNY.

The report also recommended that the legislature and SUNY Board of Trustees put together a comprehensive, multi-year tuition and funding policy that would allow both students and campuses to plan ahead financially.

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