Lawmakers want to change state’s Tuition Assistance Program

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State lawmakers set their sights on reforming the state’s tuition assistance program next year, as higher education leaders say more than a decade of underinvestment has made the program less effective at helping low-income students.

The state’s Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP grant, is available to help low- and moderate-income students cover the cost of tuition at approved colleges. Lawmakers examined the program at a public hearing in Albany on Tuesday to raise the income threshold to make more New Yorkers eligible and make other updates to the program next session.

“We are fighting to make college affordable, especially for all low-income and middle-income families,” Pat Fahey, chairman of the College Higher Education Committee, said Tuesday.

Lawmakers have said they are considering a constitutional amendment and a major legislative package to overhaul the program to make up for years of budget shortfalls.

It’s been 50 years since the state’s education assistance program began, providing $662 million in aid to more than 230,000 students in the 2022-23 fiscal year. TAP funding increased to $764 million this fiscal year, according to the state budget department.

While higher education costs have increased, TAP investments in the state are hundreds of millions of dollars lower, with nearly $1.3 billion allocated to the program in 2007, compared to $764 million today. It’s a trend lawmakers said Tuesday they want to reverse.

“We have work to do,” Fahey said. “TAP will be used to cover all public education costs through 2011.”

The congresswoman wants to see the TAP grant income cap raised to $110,000 a year and the minimum award doubled to $1,000. Keeping college affordable and increasing the number of New Yorkers seeking higher education is essential to growing the economy, she said.

State budget leaders said earlier this month that Gov. Kathy Hochul does not plan to cut spending on health care and education amid a projected $4.3 billion budget gap next year. That includes eliminating cuts to higher education spending, budget officials said Tuesday.

“Under Governor Hochul’s direction, over the past two years, the state has made historic investments in education, including fully funding foundation grants for the first time in state history,” Budget Department spokesman Tim Ruffinen said in a statement. “At the same time, Governor Hochul’s vision to transform the state’s higher education system to make it better and more equitable in the county will lead to $2.4B in new capital funding for SUNY and CUNY included in the approved budget. He wants to keep New Yorkers in the programs they rely on the most.

Panelists told lawmakers Tuesday that the $80,000 income threshold for families to qualify for TAP was created 20 years ago, and the increase is long overdue.

” if so [the program] Adjusted for inflation, that amount would be $145,000, SUNY Chancellor John King said Tuesday. “So the whole segment of New York State’s population is between $80,000 and $145,000, and those are middle-income families that could really use that help to pay for their education. I don’t think it’s worth it as an investment.

King said he urged Hochul to focus SUNY’s investments in its executive budget to improve the research, health and science industries and semiconductor manufacturing.

“The reality is, within such a large budget, it’s a very small investment to grow the TAP program,” King added.

SUNY’s chancellor supports a proposal to change state law to increase aid to New York students and allow high school seniors to fill out the Free Application for Federal School Aid, or FAFSA form. If eight other US states, like California, have policies, New York should too, he said.

“Last year, New York students in the state left $200 million in federal aid on the table because they didn’t complete the FAFSA,” King said.

The state Department of Education did not respond Tuesday to questions about whether the department’s aid to mandatory high school seniors completed the FAFSA financial aid form, or which state agency would oversee the change.

Other panelists pointed to indexing the program to inflation and combining several of the state’s scholarship programs with TAP — ideas that require research and discussion as budget talks heat up.

Fred Kowal, president of United University Professionals, wants the award to be used to improve access to aid and other expenses such as student fees and housing.

“We’re talking to people on the second floor,” Kowal said. capital tonight Tuesday after testifying. “We hope the governor will continue to expand funding for SUNY to make up for lost years.”

He said it’s an important way to increase enrollment numbers and keep students through graduation.

Fahey said strengthening the program must happen next year after a U.S. Supreme Court ruling struck down affirmative action or race as a factor in college admissions and the state’s looming $4.3 billion budget deficit.

“We have to be strategic with the investment. We can only reverse that deficit if we have taxpayers employed in the state.”

About 53% of students at SUNY schools pay no tuition as a result of TAP awards, with many at CUNY schools, according to Fahey’s office.

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