Limitless Learning: Saint Rose Joins Fight against ‘Free’ Tuition Proposal

Dr. Carolyn Stefanco is the 11th president of the College of Saint Rose. PHOTO COURTESY OF LISA THOMSON

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The College of Saint Rose is fighting back against a proposal that would provide free tuition to certain students who attended public schools in New York State.

Saint Rose joins many private institutions across the state as they object a provision in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal that would let students whose combined family income falls below $125,000 attend public colleges tuition-free.

In conjunction with the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), representatives at the College are proposing the expansion of an existing program, instead of the creation of a new one. The current proposal by Cuomo leaves private institutions out of the equation entirely, opening the door for a mass exodus of current and prospective students from the private education realm.

Lisa Haley-Thomson, chief of staff for the President’s Office at Saint Rose, spoke at a recent Student Association meeting on campus, and urged students to get involved.

“New York has always supported its college students,” Thomson said. “What about you guys?”

Cuomo’s proposal is said to be an attempt to get prospective students to attend a higher educational institution within New York state, rather than going elsewhere, but Thomson thinks he’s missed the mark.

“84 percent of Saint Rose students are from New York state,” she said. “We serve the students the governor said he wants to serve.”

The College’s President, Dr. Carolyn Stefanco, has been a leading voice in fight against Cuomo’s proposal. Last month, she spoke on the local NPR affiliate, WAMC, to voice her concerns with the current structure of the free tuition concept. More recently, she authored a perspective piece that ran both in print and online in the Times Union, saying private schools should be included in the current plan.

“We share Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal of making college more affordable for more New York students,” Stefanco wrote. “But regrettably, the governor is advancing proposals that will deprive students of the wealth of educational opportunities that have made New York one of this country’s outstanding educational leaders.”

In both instances, she introduced a popular counter to Cuomo’s idea, expanding the Tuition Assistance Program in New York state. TAP, as it’s commonly referred to, exists as an alternative to student loans, though they are often paired together. It helps eligible students receive a grant of up to $5,165 depending on the academic year in which they are enrolled. Because TAP is handed out in the form of a grant, not a loan, it does not need to be paid back.

More than half of Saint Rose’s 2,600 undergraduate students qualify for TAP, but these students represented a fraction of the 490,000 students statewide who attend private, not-for-profit institutions.

Freshman Katie Geiger fears students won’t even consider schools like Saint Rose because of the price tag that comes along with them.

“Not a lot of incoming students would want to pay $46,000 when they could go to a state school and not worry about the tuition – just the fees, books and supplies,” Geiger said.

Current undergraduate tuition at the College sits at $29,656. When books, students fees and dining plans are included, the total exceeds $40,000.

“It definitely has its pros and cons,” Geiger continued. “I’d love to see the free tuition plan be not only for public schools but also for private.”

In the last five years, Saint Rose has seen significant financial struggles drastically affect their institution. In the fall of 2015, it was announced that more than two dozen programs would be cut and nearly 30 full-time faculty let go. In December, those cuts became official, despite heavy protests from faculty, students and member of the community. As the College works tirelessly to bring in as many students as they can, breaking freshman class records the last two years, a dark cloud looms overhead.

If Cuomo’s proposal were to pass, it would be catastrophic for the College and other private institutions all over the state.

“I feel that the free tuition plan is like one of those ideas where people take it at face value, rather than looking at the negative effects it will have on the community,” said Matthew Pietrykowski, a senior at Saint Rose. “Students that are torn between state schools and private schools will be more likely to choose a state school if their family fits into the qualifications. This will make it harder for not-for-profit schools such as our own to survive.”

The pushback is being called Limitless Learning. CICU has already created a website,, and coined a hashtag, #LimitlessLearning. The website offers a call to action page, where students and their families can send letters to their local legislators, urging them to fight against the proposal.

If students are unaware who their legislator is, a quick Google search should do the job, or they can search by zipcode at
“If you feel like this is something that is important to you we urge you to contact your legislator,” Thomson said. “Now is the time.”

2 Comments on "Limitless Learning: Saint Rose Joins Fight against ‘Free’ Tuition Proposal"

  1. Scott Brodie | March 2, 2017 at 7:29 am | Reply

    While the idea of increasing aid to students in private schools is laudable, fighting against the Governor’s plan to make New York State colleges and universities free for some students is deplorable. The College of Saint Rose has never been able to compete with the tuition at SUNY schools, but we offered an alternative to their cattle call.

    We offered smaller classes, a greater percentage of full time faculty in those classrooms, a strong liberal arts curriculum, and students, professors, administrators, and staff that came together to form a special bond. We valued education in a caring respectful community, we didn’t herd students, we heard them! This loving spirit was passed down to us from our founding members, the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Carondelet. Saint Rose’s “value proposition” made us distinct and worth the price. It was called, “The Saint Rose Difference.”

    Unfortunately, our current administration, led by President Stefanco, brought “Academic Prioritization” to Saint Rose. This is the brainchild of Robert Dickeson, former president of the University of Northern Colorado. It is a plan to align colleges with corporate demand, undermine tenure, weaken faculty authority in academic programing, and erode the liberal arts. With the excuse of financial stress at Saint Rose, President Stefanco brought in this plan from the outside, with no connection to Saint Rose, and imposed it on our community.

    The result? 23 faculty positions and 28 academic programs eliminated (mostly from the liberal arts) and our vaunted caring community crushed. As the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) wrote in their 2016 report censuring The College of Saint Rose:

    President Stefanco and her administration have

    “violated basic tenets of the joint 1940 Statement of Principles on Academic Freedom and Tenure”

    “rendered tenure virtually meaningless and thus severely undermined academic freedom at the College of Saint Rose”

    “created “conditions for shared academic governance that can only be described as deplorable.”

    President Stefanco has wiped out our value proposition with a scheme that undermined the very principles of the college while it increased class size, reduced the percentage of full-time faculty, and destroyed our community. So now we need to bellyache about giving students free tuition at State schools. Nice.

  2. Jeffrey M Bryant | March 3, 2017 at 11:10 pm | Reply

    I suggest that we contact our legislators to support free tuition and let them know that the real probelm in affordability of education is that parasites like Stefanco are sucking us dry.

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