New York State Governor George Pataki plans to reduce statewide tuition assistance for college students and to raise tuition at the State and City Universities of New York. According to the budget proposal for the 2003-2004 fiscal year unveiled last week, the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and the Education Opportunity Program (EOP) will receive funding cuts.
Last year, 2,406 Cornell undergraduates and 82 law, veterinary and Johnson School of Management students depended on TAP to help pay for their tuition. The TAP awards given to Cornell students last year ranged from $400 to $5,000, totaling $5.2 million. The students who receive these awards demonstrate need and are residents of New York State. Money from TAP is a major component of Cornell’s financial aid program.
Pataki’s proposal also calls for a $1,200 to $1,400 tuition increase for New York’s public colleges as well as an $82 million cut to the operating budget of City University of New York and a $184 million cut to the State University of New York — 12 and 15 percent, respectively.
At Cornell, “the TAP program helps us expand our financial programs to meet the needs of students who otherwise couldn’t be here,” said Thomas Keane, director of financial aid and student employment.
Problems with the proposed plan come not only from the cut in the TAP budget from $675 million allotted in 2001-2002 to $568 million for 2003-2004, but also from the plan to restructure how grants will be awarded. The new plan will award recipients two-thirds of their grant upon entering college, paying the remaining third upon graduation.
The planned change will be implemented in order to provide an incentive for students to graduate.
However, Keane argued, “People who spent some time in college do better than those who don’t go at all. It’s an investment, sometimes you win and sometimes it doesn’t pan out.”
One of the possible consequences of the budget cut is that students planning on attending college on state financial aid might decide not to go at all.
“With [Pataki’s] cuts, a lot of students will never even get started,” Keane said. “They won’t have a chance to finish.”
Stephen Philip Johnson, assistant vice president for government affairs, agreed.
“I would think that if this proposal is enacted, there will be some students that if they choose not to borrow money, they will drop out to work a semester.”
Planned budget cuts were also made to other statewide programs such as Medicaid to decrease expenses in order to bridge a multibillion-dollar gap in the state budget.
“I do not feel that the Governor is opposed to student aid. His problem is a drastic drop in state revenue. I don’t think the cuts were done with prejudice,” Johnson added.
In Albany, the process of passing the budget is currently only in the beginning stages, and negotiations will continue. This is also not the first time that budget cuts to the state educational system have been proposed by Pataki.
“Last year, the [State] Assembly opposed it and they do again this year,” said New York State Assembly spokesperson Bryan Frankie.
The budget proposal will go through many stages of negotiations and must be agreed on by the State Assembly, State Senate and Pataki.
“The speaker [of the Assembly, Sheldon Silver] holds all education to be sacred, and he opposes all the tuition increases because he sees it as a tax increase on the students and working families of New York,” Frankie said. “It threatens New York’s economic future because it jeopardizes the state’s ability to prepare young people for the better high-paying jobs of the future.”
Those in the Pataki camp disagree.
“What’s important to recognize is that students who graduate wouldn’t lose a dime of funding,” said Andrew Rush, spokesperson for the Governor’s budget division. “Even with these changes, New York’s TAP program is one of the most generous in the nation. The proposal wouldn’t change eligibility requirements either.”
Rush added, “The program stipulates that students who cannot pay that one-third would be eligible for state loans and be paid back upon graduation. The Governor is very committed to education and enrollment is at an all-time high. The Governor is committed to working with all parts of the state to get rid of this budget crisis.”
At Cornell, a group of students led by Johnson are planning to lobby against the budget cuts in Albany on Feb. 11.
“I encourage people to let the Governor and their state legislators know if they are opposed to these cuts,” Keane said. “It’s a big job to fill that gap of $12 billion; it’s got to happen some way.”
Archived article by Erica Temel