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ALBANY – As President Obama railed Thursday against the high cost of a public college education, University at Buffalo students, sitting behind him in Alumni Arena on the North Campus in Amherst and cheering his ideas, have seen firsthand how university tuition is on the rise.

Seniors in the audience for the president’s speech have watched their tuition rise from $4,970 to $5,870 since they began their studies at UB in fall 2010. And the plan is for tuition to keep rising for the next two years.

It’s part of a law that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, lawmakers and SUNY officials pushed in 2011 to create a “rational” tuition policy. That means a system in which full-time undergraduate students who reside in New York can expect predictable, annual tuition increases of $300 per year for five years.

“Under the new tuition plan, students and parents will be able to reasonably plan for college expenses instead of being subject to the dramatic tuition increases and uncertainty of the past,” Cuomo said when signing the plan into law in August 2011. That ended Albany’s practice of going years with no tuition hikes and then sudden, large increases.

SUNY officials have long maintained that New York’s public higher education is a bargain. At UB, students starting classes next week will pay $5,870 per year in tuition. That is a hike of 5.4 percent from last year – nearly triple the nation’s inflation rate.

By comparison, in Pennsylvania, tuition levels can vary greatly depending on location. At its flagship school, Penn State, tuition this year is $16,090 for in-state residents.

At the University of Connecticut, in-state tuition is $9,256 this year. At the University of Massachusetts, it is $13,258; at Ohio State, $10,010.

The New York tuition hike law of 2011 means money stays with the 64 campuses. A SUNY spokesman said this year’s increases will raise an additional $85 million to $90 million.

email: tprecious@buffnews.com