In the state budget briefing materials handed out by the Cuomo administration this year, the $300 increase in tuition for students attending the City University of New York's senior and community colleges this fall—the fourth in a series of five annual hikes authorized by the state legislature beginning in 2011—is breezily explained. "These modest tuition rates," the document reads, "maintain the affordability of New York's public colleges and universities, and the predictability enables families to plan for college expenses."
But for York College student Chizobam Atuanya, the coming tuition hike is a chill wind. "I pay out of pocket," she says. "The tuition hike already impacted me from when I started college. It ends up hurting my parents’ pockets because they have to pay for me and my sister."
To be sure, the $300-a-year increases are less painful than the $830 increase in 2010 or the $800 boost in 2005. And CUNY is still a big bargain compared to private colleges, many public four-year schools and even some other community colleges. But in a system where—according the Professional Staff Congress, the CUNY Union—56 percent of students' households have income of less than $30,000 a year, they still take a bite.
That's true even for students who receive aid. "The tuition is higher than what TAP gives out," says Johanna Pierre, a Brooklyn College student, referring to the state's Tuition Assistance Program. "After a few years students would have to pay out of pocket or take semesters off, even attend part time because the tuition is getting higher." Her friend Cynthia Augustin agreed, "The people who are really affected are the ones who pay out of pocket, they have to worry about books and other necessary things they need." Augustin predicted it would force more students to take out loans.
The culprit is state and city support that has not kept up with expenses. According to PSC, in 1990-91, tuition made up only 22 percent of the CUNY budget. State and city aid took care of the rest. In 2011-12, however, tuition was tasked with 42 percent of the budget. The state share was lower by a third and city support decreased dramatically.
In the past two years, the state has increased its funding to CUNY, but tuition increases are outpacing it. According to CUNY's analysis of the new state budget, state aid to senior CUNY colleges jumps 3.8 percent—but tuition revenue climbs 6.3 percent. At the community college level, state aid is rising 2.6 percent, less than half the 7.4 percent rise in tuition revenue.
For York College student Dominique Williams, the tuition hike has been very stressful because she has been paying out of pocket for the past few months. She describes the hike like a slap on the face. "Financial aid is basically causing a plethora of problems in my life."
York College student Raymond Mora says the hike means he will be paying off a loan after he graduates and enters a soft job market. "It's tough to not have Pell or TAP every semester and with family not paying much," he says. "You just have to be positive and finish your education."