Slapping higher education students with a steep rise in tuition is a poor way to plug holes in State University of New York budgets.

That’s why we reluctantly applaud SUNY’s proposal last week to increase tuition by a somewhat modest 4 percent. The move is part of SUNY’s plan to increase tuition gradually, not in leaps.

That we can appreciate, and support.

But we also find reasonable points in what the student supported New York Public Interest Research Group has to say about the move. SUNY’s argument gives colleges and universities a way to guarantee tuition jumps just a little bit each year.

Parents footing education bills and students struggling to work through their schooling might get out and fight a horrific spike in tuition one year, but are far less likely to oppose gradual increases, even though it’ll still end up punching them in the pocketbook eventually.

The SUNY system is on the right track, but needs to play hardball with the state when it comes to funding. These schools are called public for a reason. They should be backed by tax dollars, as the education students receive at these colleges and universities will enrich the entire state.

We know an educated work force is a valuable commodity in today’s global economy, and New York — once lauded for its superior forms of education — has noticeably begun to slip.

Raising the price of education is a necessary evil as inflation threatens, but that means state support must increase, too, not just the burden on students and their families.

Already, a SUNY tuition costs $4,350 a year. When you add the ball and chain of fees, that number averages out to $5,000. That’s a lot of money when you factor in living expenses, books, materials, etc.

Our passion to keep education affordable in New York should not end with the passing of a high school diploma and a walk across the stage. SUNY’s gradual creep into more expensive schooling might not be as cruel as random spikes in costs, but the outcome could very well be the same.

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