Students Protest Proposed Budget
By Nathan Weinberg

On the first Wednesday of this semester, Queens College students took the governor’s budget and stamped it “Return to Sender.”

Students in the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) gathered in the dining hall on February 1
to send a message of disapproval regarding the proposed budget.

Governor Pataki’s 2006-2007 Executive Budget proposes tuition hikes for public colleges, with SUNY slated
to receive a $500 hike and CUNY students expected to pay a $300 tuition increase.

Standing at a display with Express Mail envelopes marked “Return To Governor Pataki,” Queens College
members of NYPIRG, the state’s largest student advocacy organization, expressed their displeasure with the
proposed hikes.

State board representative Donald Navarro, 28, a sophomore, said that he works 34 hours a week, and with
the governor also proposing to limit TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) awards to 15-credit students, he
wouldn’t be able to both earn a living and an education.

“I wouldn’t be able to pay my bills,” he said. “I’m scraping by to do laundry, to be able to eat, to afford
transportation”.

The TAP change would define a full-time student as one taking 15 credits, up from the current 12, which
would force low-income students to spend more hours a week taking classes, hours they may need to work to pay the rent. Students taking less than 15 credits would see a 20% reduction in their award.

Several students said the state should be paying more for public education, not charging students more. Navarro pointed out that “New York is ranked 36 out of 50 states in funding higher education, and I don’t think anything in New York should be in 36th place.”

NYPIRG intern Jessenia Vazcones, a freshman, said, “A tuition hike is unfair because they should invest more money in our education. Just because we don’t have a high income, doesn’t mean we don’t deserve a higher education.”

Vazcones pointed out that the governor has a 30-day amendment period to make a different recommendation to the state legislature, one that, in her words, “doesn’t rely on fiscal gimmicks to borrow from students”.

Vazcones called the event a success, saying, “We had a lot of people sign up,” many of them to accompany NYPIRG students from around the state on a bus trip to Albany on March 6 to lobby local elected officials to stop tuition hikes. More information on that can be found in NYPIRG’s Student Union offices in the Lower Level, room 36, or by emailing queens@nypirg.org.

Another proposal, one supported in Governor Pataki’s budget and called for in the CUNY Compact, is automatic annual tuition increases, which would guarantee tuition hikes every year. The hikes would be tied to a “Higher Education Pricing Index”, which would suggest, based on cost of living factors, how much tuition should be raised each year.

“Automatic annual tuition increases can only guarantee that students will end up paying more and more,” said Christy Tomecek, a NYPIRG intern.

Data from the National Association of State Universities and Land Grants shows that all states with tuition indexing in 2004 raised their tuition almost double, and in some cases triple the amount indicated by the index. In fact, one Ohio State University campus raised tuition in 2004 by 13%, triple the range of 2.1-4.6% suggested by the same index CUNY would be using.

Most hit by the increases would be incoming freshmen, who would bear the automatic tuition hikes. Vazcones added that higher tuition, and especially automatic higher tuition targeted at freshmen, would discourage prospective students from coming to CUNY colleges like Queens College. “In making the decision for colleges,” she said, “CUNY is no longer as affordable.”