ALBANY, N.Y. (NEWS10) — Alodie Keza spent her last day of University at Albany classes with dozens of other students, faculty and staff chanting for change to SUNY funding. Keza says after escaping refugee camps in Rwanda, she was only able to attend college thanks to the New York’s Educational Opportunity Program for economically disadvantaged students.
“A few years ago, if anyone would have told me that I would be in college right now, I would think they were just playing a joke on me,” Keza explains to NEWS10’s Mikhaela Singleton. “The first 13 years of my life, my life was in a refugee camp. There it was more about survival and education was limited, so reflecting on being here in this moment is surreal.”
Keza shared her story with close to 200 people attending a protest Monday organized by members of the United University Professions union. They say not only did the SUNY Board of Trustees vote for a 3% tuition increase earlier this year, legislators also propose cuts to state funding for the SUNY system, including a general decline to EOP.
“Four in 10 of our students qualify for need based Pell Grants, these are not wealthy students. They’re students that are just looking for some economic opportunity in this amazing resource that we have in the state. That resource is not going to be maintained by simply charging these students more and more money,” explains Aaron Major, local Albany chapter president for the United University Professions Union.
“If everything was okay, we wouldn’t need this. We would have our funding, students wouldn’t be burdened with keeping the lights on for SUNY,” says Jeri O’Bryan-Losee, the United University Professions Union secretary and treasurer.
Keza and her fellow students offered their pleas to SUNY’s chancellor and state leaders to re-evaluate before it comes time to decide the 2020 budget, put less strain on student’s finances, and commit funding to the SUNY system.
“The students who are here, who are going to graduate will eventually either work for the state or be part of the community in one way or another. Being able to fund their education is very important and giving back to the state eventually,” says freshman Jordui Leomardo.
“We grew up at home in a single parent household, so it was hard for us academically and financially,” explains Ghinerys Suriel, who is pursuing her masters in social work. “Without EOP, I would not be here, I would not be a graduate student, but now I do have the opportunity to learn in a field I love and contribute. I can only imagine the next generation that won’t be able to come to school if we don’t make funding their education our priority.”
“I cannot see any downside to having people educated,” Keza adds.
SUNY chancellor Kristina Johnson released a prepared statement:
“SUNY strongly advocates for every dollar possible to continue to help our campuses grow. Working with the Governor, Legislature, campus Presidents, faculty, students and advocates, we have delivered $85 million to our colleges and universities in the last year alone, an increase of nearly 2 percent over the past year, and an increase of more than $1 billion since 2011. These facts represent a collective commitment to public higher education and an investment that has yielded top nationwide rankings, higher than national average on-time graduation rates, over half of our students attending tuition free, and even more graduating with zero debt thanks to historic financial aid and new programs including Excelsior Scholarship. This is a significant return on a substantial investment from our state and local governments, as well as the hard work of the leadership and educators on our campuses. Our position is clear – our commitment to funding SUNY this year will be no different.”