The SUNY Board of Trustees last week approved its state budget request for the 2012-13 fiscal year, which begins July 1, 2012. The request proposed an operating budget of about $8.15 billion, a 6 percent increase from last year’s operation budget of about $7.65 billion.

The Board of Trustees also passed a $300 tuition hike for undergraduate students at SUNY schools in 2012-13. This summer, the New York State Legislature passed NYSUNY 2020, legislation granting the Board of Trustees authority to raise tuition for undergraduate students by $300 per year between 2011 and 2016, a 30 percent overall increase if enacted by the Board each year. The first $300 increase was approved by the Board in June.

NYSUNY 2020’s tuition hikes implement a “rational tuition” plan that many in the SUNY administration and on SUNY campuses have pushed for in recent years. Advocates of the policy have argued that small, incremental tuition increases will help fund a financially distressed SUNY system and allow students and their families to better predict their tuition costs.

State funding support for SUNY has declined by about $1.4 billion since the 2008-09 fiscal year, according to SUNY statistics.

“It’s a tough economic situation facing the state,” said Carl McCall, the chairman of the SUNY Board of Trustees. “We have reached a reasonable budget under these circumstances to try to reach our needs.”

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher called the budget the result of a “long and deliberative process,” and also spoke of it positively.

“Our ability to serve the students was our highest priority,” Zimpher said. “And rational tuition goes right to student services. It’s all about more courses, getting you graduated on time, make sure you have the faculty to teach your classes and making sure that major courses are delivered so that you can complete your degree.”

Joseph Belluck, a member of the Board of Trustees who is a Binghamton University alumnus, said he thought the total SUNY budget request was appropriate but that he did not support the tuition hike and voted against it.

“I think $300 is a significant amount, not a nominal amount,” Belluck said. “For a freshman, it’s $1,200 over his or her four years here.”

Belluck said he believed a political battle is currently underway for “the soul of SUNY.”

“To what extent will New York State support higher education? And to what extent will families who send kids to college be required to share more and more of the cost of college expenses?” Belluck identified as the cruxes of this political battle.

He said he believes NYSUNY 2020’s authorized tuition increases put the Board of Trustees “in a bad position.”

“If we don’t increase the tuition, SUNY loses resources,” Belluck said. “But this lets the State Legislature off the hook for funding SUNY. And I’m not prepared to do this.”

Belluck encouraged SUNY students and their families to “tell their legislators that they need to support higher education in New York.”

“There is a sense among the trustees and the legislators that SUNY students support rational tuition, because the SUNY SA endorsed it,” he said. “I think students at BU who are concerned about tuition increases need to let their voices be heard.”

Maggie Ward, a member of the Binghamton chapter of New York Student’s Rising (NYSR), a statewide network of students and campus-organizations dedicated to defending public higher education and empowering students in New York State, said the group was protesting less affordable education.

“Without increased state funding, the tuition hikes only sustain an increase in enrollment,” said Ward, a senior majoring in sociology. “There are high administrative salaries, increasing tuition and decreasing services for students.”

Brendan McQuade, a leader of BU’s chapter of NYSR, claimed the tuition increases will reduce access to higher education for residents in New York.

“Enrollment will consist of wealthy and poor kids, while the middle class is squeezed out,” said McQuade, a graduate student in the sociology department.

The Board of Trustees’ request for 2012-13 includes about $1.83 billion in taxpayer support, a 9.2 percent increase from last year’s taxpayer support level of about $1.68 billion. The request, which is available on SUNY’s website, also outlines funding for state-operated campuses, system administration and university-wide programs.

Under the request, funding for SUNY hospitals will increase 92.7 percent and community colleges will increase 5.4 percent.

Funding for university-wide programs covers three major categories: student grants and loans, opportunity and diversity programs and strategic initiatives and system-wide resources.

The Board of Trustees also approved a $1.69 billion capital budget.