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Another Voice: Private colleges are part of the educational solution

By Ken Macur

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship Initiatives would provide free tuition for New York State undergraduate students from families making up to $125,000 per year. An interesting proposal, but one benefitting only students enrolled full-time at SUNY and CUNY two- or four-year schools.

As president of Medaille College, a private, not-for-profit college, I am encouraged by the focus on the importance of higher education in our state, but only if those discussions include the thousands of students who choose the private, not-for-profit sector for their education. Articles and editorials about this initiative abound across New York. Within these discussions are two particular points that have ramifications beyond the cost of tuition.

Question one: What happened to value through competition? Although private schools provide their students very generous scholarships and other aid, they can cost more than SUNY/CUNY schools. Yet more students choose private schools. We educate more students and, according to the governor’s own State of the State report, we do a better job graduating more students and graduating more students on time. Consumers (in this case students) choose where value lies. Private colleges across New York compete constantly, thus constantly improve their value. The result – improved student success.

Perhaps the governor should have more faith in the talent of our peers in public schools than to simply relegate their worth to the “cost” side of the value equation. I have a tremendous amount of respect for my peers in the public sector. They can compete. Allow them.

Question two: What’s the difference between a subsidy and an investment? When the state allows students to take their Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) dollars to the school of their choice, that’s an investment. In return for an investment of $210 million in TAP funds that go to private colleges, the governor gets superior graduation rates, $79.6 billion of total economic impact, over 125,000 full-time jobs and over 41,000 part-time jobs. There’s more, but this is compelling enough.
When the state subsidizes the SUNY/CUNY system at a total cost of $7.8 billion (budget plus $650 million in TAP), the system generates fewer graduates.

Perhaps unlike our secondary school system, colleges and universities in New York have historically been diverse, benefiting a wide cross-section of students. Such diversity and talent, in both private and public schools, deserves investment.

The governor is to be congratulated for his enthusiasm to support higher education. He simply needs to have faith in our students’ ability to translate that support into an investment for the entire state. How does that translate into policy? Expand TAP eligibility so students can choose the school, public or private, that’s right for them. Now that’s an investment!

Ken Macur, Ph.D., is  president of Medaille College.

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