March 1, 2002

In-State Students Could Face Tuition Aid Cuts

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In-state residents receiving awards from New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) may see their financial aid packages cut by one-third next semester. The state legislature is currently debating a gubernatorial proposal that, if implemented, would withhold one-third of every award given to in-state college students until they graduate. Should the proposal pass in April, it will be implemented immediately for the 2002-03 fiscal year and will affect all students receiving state funds.

TAP, a state funded program, awards need-based financial aid to New York residents whose families fall into certain annual income brackets. Depending on a family’s income, students can currently receive from $500 to $5,000 annually in state tuition assistance.

Concerned that students are not taking advantage of their higher education opportunities, state officials presented this proposal hoping to encourage students to graduate. By holding the final one-third of their financial aid package until graduation, proponents of the reform believe students will have a greater incentive to complete their degree requirements.

“If you withhold a third of the award, [officials feel] students will have an incentive to graduate,” said Talia Dubovi, a legislative associate, Office of Government Affairs. “If you don’t graduate, you don’t get reimbursed for your loans.”

However this proposal was also created largely in response to the state’s suffering budget, which has been distressed following the events of Sept. 11. Champions of the proposal emphasize that the tuition assistance reform would save $155 million in state funds.

Cornell administrators and many students adamantly oppose the proposition, and are currently working to ensure its defeat in the state legislature.

Next week, Cornell will send a delegation of students to Albany to lobby against the proposed TAP reform, and will try to encourage members of the state senate to vote against the measure. President Hunter R. Rawlings III, Henrik N. Dullea ’61 vice-president for University Relations, and Harold Tanner ’52, chair of the Board of Trustees will also head to Albany in mid-March to address the issue with state officers.

“They will be meeting with top officials in the state and making a case for Cornell [in opposition to] the financial aid proposal,” said Charles Kruzansky, associate director, Government Affairs.

Disagreeing that partially withholding financial awards would encourage the pursuit of higher degrees, administrators feel that the reform could actually deter students from seeking higher education in New York.

“I’m not sure this would be an encouraging ploy to get [students] to go to school,” said Stephen Johnson, executive director of government affairs. “[It just] leads to more loans.” Alluding to the negative financial effect that the reform would have on in-state students, Dullea added, “[The proposal’s implementation] would have an adverse effect on students and their families.”

Cornell administrators argue that students failing to graduate from state colleges do so for reasons other than financial assistance. “People who don’t graduate from college don’t [graduate] for reasons outside this proposal,” said Dubovi. “Quite frequently it is because of personal circumstances,” said Dullea citing employment opportunities, internships and personal financial troubles as deterrents from, and alternatives to, completing collegiate programs.

With Cornell state students currently receiving $5 million a year from TAP and with a relatively high graduation rate (90 percent of students graduating in six years), administrators feel that the reform can only negatively affect Cornell students and other state-funded students in New York. They also fear that the proposal has a decent chance of passing this spring, as there has not been much opposition to it.

“As the weeks have gone on, there really hasn’t been as much of an outcry [against the measure] from students and their families across the state as legislators thought there would be. This increases the chance of the proposal passing,” Dullea said, encouraging in-state students and their families to write their home districts in opposition to the proposal.

Archived article by Ellen Miller