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CUNY Approves Tuition Increase Amid Student Protests

By Mary Johnson | August 4, 2011 6:56am
Students held a rally after the CUNY Board of Trustees voted to approve tuition increases.
Students held a rally after the CUNY Board of Trustees voted to approve tuition increases.
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DNAinfo/Mary Johnson

GRAMERCY — The long-looming possibility that state budget cuts would force the City University of New York to raise student tuition has become reality.

The CUNY Board of Trustees held a brief meeting at Baruch College on Wednesday to comply with a temporary restraining order requiring a full board vote before tuition increases came into effect.

Despite outcry from dozens of students who attended the meeting, the board voted to approve the higher rates.

“Where are the cuts to your salaries? Where are your priorities?” one student shouted in the middle of the meeting.

The tuition hike will go into effect this fall, according to a document outlining the board’s resolution that was distributed at the meeting.

Full-time resident undergraduate students at senior colleges will pay $300 more for the 2011 school year, raising the total annual cost to about $5,100 per student. Law students will pay $670 more in 2011, bringing the annual tuition up to roughly $11,400. Master’s degree students will pay anywhere from $480 to $710 more per year, depending on the program.  

And those increases could continue. Under a New York state law passed in June, CUNY can raise tuition by up to $300 annually for full-time resident undergraduate students over the next five years.

At the meeting, CUNY Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said that tuition hikes would not affect recipients of federal Pell grants or the state Tuition Assistance Program.

Goldstein also said the increase in revenue received from higher tuition would go toward helping students most in need of financial support.

But that statement did little to quiet the crowd.

At multiple points throughout the brief meeting, members of the board called for students to be ejected from the room because they failed to keep quiet.

At one point, students burst into applause so loud that it drowned out the chancellor’s remarks, and one person called the trustees “a bunch of thieves and liars” before being forced out of the room.

“Disgusting,” another called out as she was pushed out into the hallways. “Don’t do it.”

The CUNY system has sustained serious budget cuts in recent years, according to the document passed out at the meeting.

In the past three years, the university system’s operating budget was slashed by $205 million. For fiscal year 2012, CUNY will have to cut another $300 million.

A spokesperson for CUNY highlighted the relative affordability of the city university system, pointing out 15 public university systems outside New York state with tuition rates as much as twice the cost of CUNY.

Private universities like Columbia and New York University can cost more than $40,000 per year, he added.

But those arguments don’t seem to hold much weight with students.

“We can’t afford NYU, the New School or Columbia,” said Christina Chaise, a senior at Hunter College. “This is all we have.”

Terence Podolski said the tuition hikes may mean that he can’t pursue a master’s degree at CUNY.

“[Chancellor Goldstein’s] whole administration has been about closing the door,” Podolski said.

After the meeting, several dozen students gathered in front of a Baruch College building on East 25th Street, between Lexington and Third avenues. They gathered in a circle and took turns shouting their concerns to the crowd.

One man sold copies of a newsletter called “Revolution” for 25 cents. The paper’s front-page headline read: “CUNY: No Tuition Hike! Abolish the Board of Trustees!”

The students at the rally agreed that the fight would continue, and they are planning a major demonstration on Wall Street in September.

When asked why they chose Wall Street as the location, Christina Chaise said: “They get bailed out. We get sold out.”