Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic Senate majority leader in New York, addresses the Senate, in Albany, N.Y., Jan. 9, 2019.

Stephanie Keith / The New York Times

Andrea Stewart-Cousins, the Democratic Senate majority leader in New York, addresses the Senate, in Albany, N.Y., Jan. 9, 2019.

October 25, 2019

Distance, Disillusionment to Keep Some Cornellians from NYS Senate Higher Education Forums

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From now until Nov. 1, Cornell students will have another place to complain about their college experience besides their friend group chats and social media. The New York State Senate is hosting a series of open public forums across the state to collect comments for future higher education legislation.

The Senate Standing Committee on Higher Education is holding these hearings to discuss ways in which the state government can make public higher education more accessible, affordable and available, according to a press release. The first hearing took place Oct. 24 in New York City. Cornellians who are also New York residents looking to express their concerns may consider attending the Oct. 31 event in Syracuse.

Cornell uniquely straddles the state’s conversations on affordability due to its blend of public and private colleges. Tuition costs approximately $15,000 less for New York State residents than for out-of-state students who attend one of Cornell’s four contract schools and colleges.

Additionally, New York State offers aid to eligible in-state Cornellians through grants such as the Tuition Assistance Program — a topic that senators plan to address at the public hearings.

At the top of Peyton Carpen’s ’23 list of concerns are the unspoken costs of attending college that go uncovered by tuition assistance.

“Yes, your tuition is covered, but what about other things?” said Carpen, an Office of Academic Diversity Initiatives research scholar and a member of the First Generation Student Union. “Your room and board is covered, but do you have money to go out with your friends?”

“Financial aid is important and needs to be grown more, but it only covers you to some point. You don’t get spending money to buy dorm bedding or to get a scarf because it’s Ithaca,” Carpen continued.

While Carpen said she feels strongly about these issues, she worries that only the most politically active members of the Cornell community will attend the hearings, failing to represent the variety of grievances that float around Cornell’s campus.

Carpen added that she is grateful for the financial aid she receives, as well as for scholarships and resources provided through University organizations such as the OADI. However, Carpen said she feels that not all students are aware of these resources.

Still, Industrial and Labor Relations student Grace Fairchild ’22 told The Sun that she anticipates few Cornell students and faculty to attend the public forums.

“Driving an hour to the hearings is not on the top of peoples’ priority lists, even though their voices need to be heard,” Fairchild said. “People are bogged down in daily life.”

Fairchild similarly cited expenses that extend beyond tuition as barriers to making higher education more affordable and accessible, such as tangential costs associated with studying abroad and joining clubs.

“The first thing my brain goes to is, how much is that going to cost me, in addition to what I am already paying to be here?” Fairchild said. “That’s the first question I ask, whereas it’s not always the first question that other people ask.”

These issues of affordability seem to be on the State senators’ radar. Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky, who organized these hearings and who’s the chair of the state senate’s higher education committee, said in the press release that “students deserve to graduate with a degree and not massive debt that mortgages their future.”

Stavisky continued to outline other priority issues that the Senate will consider when they reconvene on higher education reform, including a “fair, living wage” for university faculty.

“Stakeholders will speak, we will listen and question, and hopefully change will result,” Stavisky said.