Economist Proposes Fee on College Students To Ease Financial Burden On City

OSWEGO, NY – Dr. Laurence Malone, a Hartwick College economics professor, presented his plan for a new revenue source for small cities in Upstate New York, including Oswego.

His proposal, to add a $100 fee ($50 per semester) to SUNY college students’ bill would greatly alleviate much of the financial stress several upstate college cities are facing.

Dr. Laurence Malone makes a point about Oswego's spending regarding public safety and college students.
Dr. Laurence Malone makes a point about Oswego’s spending regarding public safety and college students.

His paper encompasses six college cities – Cortland, Elmira, Geneva, Oneonta, Plattsburgh and Oswego.

“This paper proposes a policy response to some fiscal challenges in small Upstate New York cities that have significant public and private college student populations,” he said Tuesday night in the Council Chambers. “These populations require unfunded outlays to ensure public safety for college students, which add to municipal fiscal stress.”

Total spending and public safety expenditures per capita (2012), the annual spending per student for public safety, ranges from a low of $389 in Cortland to a high of $526 in Oswego, he pointed out.

Because the student populations require highly trained personnel and equipment to ensure their public safety, “an unfunded burden has been places on municipal finances,” he said. “Since residential college students consume the same set of public services that are consumed by property owners and renting students, a classic ‘free rider’ problem exists. Students attending college in upstate cities benefit from public safety services without paying for the cost of those services.”

According to 2010 census figures, Oswego’s population was 18,142. The student population (undergraduates only) was 7,328 – 40 percent.

The fee would turn the “free riders” into paying for the services and the protection, they don’t have to utilize it; the fact that the services are there will make mom and or dad sleep better at night, Dr. Malone said.

According to his figures, Oswego could potentially generate $732,800. With a deficit of $1,417, 604, that would mean the shortfall would be sliced to $684,804. That, he said, would be much more manageable.

“I believe that SUNY Central in Albany could simply do this. They could say this is eminent and reasonable; $100 per year for residential students in all of our SUNY campuses,” he said.

His paper has already sparked some legislative activity, namely the “SUNY Impact Aid Bill,” proposed in October by State Sen. James L. Seward (R/C/I – Oneonta). (https://www.nysenate.gov/newsroom/press-releases/james-l-seward/seward-bill-would-mean-mandate-relief-suny-communities)

Senator Patty Ritchie is also on board, he said. In the Assembly, Will Barclay is not, he added.

The legislation is going through the committee process currently, he said.

Dr. Laurence Malone, right, chats with Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen prior to his presentation.
Dr. Laurence Malone, right, chats with Oswego Mayor Tom Gillen prior to his presentation.

“Our findings demonstrate that under existing federal and state laws defining residency, college students in our Upstate small cities enjoy benefits from services funded only by non-student residents. We have shown how colleges contribute to budgetary distress in upstate small cities and have identified an inequity where local property owners bear the full burden of unfair taxation in the provisioning of essential public services,” Dr. Malone said. “Those results call for the possibility of levying a special fee on residential college students to support the provisioning of public safety services. More generally, there may be additional legal concerns on fairness since some residents currently bear the costs for free riders who utilize essential public safety services and reside at colleges.”

There are some potential stumbling blocks in the proposal, however. For example, the student population figure doesn’t show how many are living off campus (and therefore paying for the services through their rent) and the fact that the vast majority of SUNY Oswego is located within the borders of Oswego Town, not the city.


  1. Can this be said of all tax exempt properties, not just of students? “[We] have identified an inequity where local property owners bear the full burden of unfair taxation in the provisioning of essential public services,”? Over 40% of the County properties are Tax Exempt, use the most public services, but pay for none of them.

    If Tax Exempt properties paid their fair share for services, could we actually lower the costs we pay out-of-pocket for education allowing more residents to afford higher education? While making overall increases to the public services budget for all communities, not just college communities?

  2. I am sure the TOWN of OSWEGO would love all that extra money. After all , that is where MOST of the students live.
    Maybe the city has foregot how much it needs the college to survive. The student pay property taxes through the rent they pay on their apartments. They pay sales tax on everything they buy while LIVING HERE for 8 months of the year. Go ahead and think about the money those 7,000 students and 1000 employees spend here while you are crying about the loss of Fitzpartick. The college has a bigger economic impact on this city than the nukes. (Maybe the City should be giving the college money to make sure it stay viable) :)

  3. The college provides wonderful benefits for the city, including the many of us who would not be here otherwise. But it is true that the several thousand students who live on campus venture into the city frequently and benefit from the city’s police and fire protection without really paying for them. The $100 fee has a number of problems, starting with the fact that the campus is in the town and not the city, but don’t worry, it’s not on table anyway.

    What is on the table and deserves your support is a bill currently before the legislature that would direct state aid to NYS college towns to cover the gap between the extra public safety services required for students and what students do pay (in sales taxes, etc.). The money would not come from student fees but from NYS’s combined revenue streams. Oswego would be a major beneficiary. Our Senator, Patty Ritchie, is a co-sponsor of the bill, the SUNY Impact Aid Bill. Our Assemblyman, Will Barclay, has not yet spoke in support of the bill, so contacting him would be a good idea.

    About the bill:

    The House version is A.6416.

    To contact Will Barclay:

  4. I believe Syracuse University kicked in voluntarily monies to help the City cover some of the expense for services it bestows on the University. But this is rare as most are just concerned about their endowments growing and not really the community. Tax exemptions validity will be the great debate and it is closer than you think as the cities start filing bankruptcy notices.

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