United University Professions said for the past decade the base funding from New York state for higher education has remained at the same level.
At a Tuesday rally at SUNY Buffalo State, union President Frank Kowal said it can't remain flat again.
"There needs to be an increase," Kowal said. "It needs to target student needs like making sure there's enough courses available so students can graduate on time but also to support the work of the university from research to, as I said to patient care and obviously, most importantly, in the classroom."
Buffalo State Senior Zaine Sayeed was among the dozens of students present at the event.
"Thankfully, I talked to a couple of my professors and one of them actually canceled class so I had some time to come down here for a little bit but otherwise I would have been stuck in class all day," Sayeed said.
Time is a precious commodity for many students at the college including Sayeed, who works part-time or even full-time to afford tuition.
"When you come to school, your priority should be at school and nothing else and the problem right now is that people are forced to prioritize work and all that because they have to pay for school and it's not fair that it's like that," Sayeed said.
UUP said more funds from the state will absolutely help students who are balancing their studies and paying their way through school. They say more funding means less need to increase tuition every year.
"With the burden that students are facing, I think it's unconscionable to expect them to pay more right now," Kowal said. "It simply cannot be done."
The union said its primary request is the state pick up the so-called TAP gap. The state Tuition Assistance Program currently covers a maximum of $5,165 while tuition is more than $7,000. Currently the schools make up the difference for students with full TAP benefits.
"We think campuses that bring in students who are unable to pay should be rewarded, not punished," Kowal said. "Right now, they're being punished."
He acknowledged it's a difficult year to ask for more money with the state facing a Medicaid deficit that got more complicated this week with news the federal government is phasing out a waiver program. But the union says there are ways to increase revenues, suggesting more taxes on the wealthiest New Yorkers.