March 12, 2003

Students Struggle With Funds

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As politicians debate over New York State Governor George Pataki’s recent Executive Budget calling for a $289 million decrease in higher education funding, students such as Cassy Streeter ’06 are worried about generating enough money to last them through college.

With the current responsibility of paying for tuition, books, housing and food, Streeter works an off-campus job to help pay her bills.

“I come from a low income family who can’t really afford to pay for my college tuition, so I’m going at it alone,” Streeter said.

Part of her funds comes from the state-sponsored Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). In Pataki’s proposed budget, one third of the award would be held until the student receiving the aid graduated. New York students are granted up to $5,000 through TAP.

Streeter said her job and worrying about finances creates “a real strain” because she does not have as much time to do homework. She is worried that if her grades suffer, she might be “booted out of college.”

She is one of the approximately 2,400 University undergraduate students who depend on TAP to pay for their education.

Even though most students at Cornell graduate in four years, other individuals at SUNY schools might not, causing them to lose the last one-third of their award, according to Stephen Philip Johnson, assistant vice president for government affairs. Johnson said this creates a “record-keeping nightmare.”

Another $11 million financial aid program that is proposed to be cut in half is the Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP). This fund, and the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) would affect around 180 Cornell students according to Thomas Keane, director of financial aid and student employment.

A reduction of this magnitude would amount to a $210,000 loss for the University and might impact the availability of counseling and enrichment programs which HEOP offers.

“The HEOP/EOP cuts are less clear as to the impact. They could impact direct aid to students or funding for support services or both,” Keane stated.

According to HEOP and TAP student recipient Robinson Ko ’06, his parents cannot foot the whole tuition bill. Ko might need to find a job in the future, or in the worst case scenario, leave the University.

“Cornell tries its best to help students pay [for tuition],” Ko said. “[But] I honestly can say that I can’t afford Cornell if the cuts happen.”

Pataki’s executive budget includes a state-wide $18.7 million reduction of “Bundy” Aid, a fund which provides money to independent colleges and universities on a degree productivity basis.

In addition, the $10 million Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) and Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) will both be eliminated. These programs provide under-represented and economically disadvantaged students with aid in technical, scientific and health-related fields.

Approximately 90 University students are part of the CSTEP program.

Higher education reductions are not uncommon across the nation according to Johnson. State revenue has dropped significantly over the past years, and other programs such as Medicaid and K-12 education are also taking hits.

In protest to the Executive Budget, members from all over the community have made efforts to lobby the Capitol.

Two weeks ago, a group headed by Ari Epstein ’04, current student assembly (S.A.) liaison to the Student Activities Funding Commission Leaders (SAFC), submitted a resolution against Pataki’s executive budget. In addition, the group sent a letter to Pataki’s office in Albany, outlining the negative effects aid cuts would have on University students. The resolution passed unanimously.

“I don’t think it’s a political issue,” Epstein said. “Cuts to Cornell affect everybody.”

Epstein was also part of a group of University and Ithaca College students that went on a Feb. 11 trip to Albany in an attempt to meet and petition government officials. Johnson noted that the students spent the day speaking with various state politicians.

“Any legislature likes to see its constituents,” Johnson said.

In addition, e-mails have also been sent out to students, encouraging them to petition and write the Capitol.

Administrators have also used their influence to lobby state government. Yesterday, a group of University officials, including President Hunter R. Rawlings III, took a trip up to Albany and spoke with politicians according to Henrik N. Dullea ’61, vice president for University relations.

“This time, we will focus exclusively on the budget,” Dullea said. “We certainly hope there will be modifications.”

Students including Laura Borden ’05 hope their petitioning efforts produce positive results. Borden is now forced to find paid-internships over the summer and said that further TAP cuts will not help.

“I can honestly say that TAP funding was of the major reasons I was able to come to Cornell in the first place. As funding drops and my Cornell loans go up, of course it’s getting tougher and tougher to pay for school,” Borden said.

State aid cuts might eventually create a heavier burden on financial aid. With the University attempting to maintain its “need-blind” status, generating funds to help students attend will be even more difficult.

“The number of [students needing financial aid] grows every year and the need-blind policy is getting more costly,” Johnson said.

Because the cost of University statutory tuition is increasing, state aid reduction might also lead to a reduction in University economic diversity.

“Anytime that funding for higher education is threatened, those that are the least secure financially will weigh their options more seriously,” Keane said.

Even though Dullea assures that the University, “will do whatever we can to maintain the diversity of the student body,” Streeter expects that negative changes might be on the horizon.

“I hope the governor is unsuccessful in his attempts to cut back on education. [The cuts are] really going to hurt students like me in order to attend great colleges like Cornell,” Streeter said.

Archived article by Brian Tsao