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Another Voice: Increasing TAP awards will help more students

By Robin Schimminger

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal for increasing access to one sector of higher education has received much publicity. While his “free tuition” proposal would help some students better afford higher education, others could be hurt by another of his proposals to eliminate financial aid for students at independent schools forced to increase tuition to keep pace.

An opinion piece in this newspaper by Jim Malatras, the governor’s departing director of state operations, was misleading. I write to offer an alternative perspective.

Contrary to the suggestion in Malatras’ piece, no one is suggesting that taxpayers should pay for the cost of “free tuition” at our independent colleges and universities. Instead, the state should continue to provide financial aid to students of similar economic means and let that student decide what school provides the best opportunity for her or him. One size doesn’t fit all.

I believe that helping college students with tuition is best accomplished by increasing an existing and proven program: New York’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). This model has been embraced for decades. It works for students and for our Western New York communities that are blessed with 12,600 jobs associated with our 11 independent campuses.

The vast majority of students for whom New York’s independent colleges and universities offer the best social, academic and career fit will be hurt by the governor’s proposals, which would deny them their TAP awards – an average of $2,738 per student – and scholarships made possible by Bundy aid.

The comparison of tuition at SUNY or CUNY colleges to tuition at independent institutions can be misleading. While the average tuition for a private education in New York is $34,000, after financial aid is factored in, the number drops to an average of $12,700.

State taxpayers provide approximately $8,830 for each student to attend a SUNY or CUNY college or university and an average of $650 for those attending independent institutions. Our public-private partnership in higher education, and the resulting array of opportunities available to New York students, is a positive tradition that should be improved upon, and not undermined.

New York’s TAP totals $1 billion, of which $220 million is used by students to attend independent colleges. We have been able to increase the maximum TAP award only once in the last decade. Yet I know that as part of their effort to increase access, independent colleges and universities have tripled the amount of aid from their own resources since 2000.

Expanding TAP for all New Yorkers will help families meet their higher education expenses while keeping both independent and public education accessible to everyone. It will ensure that all of our college campuses remain vital contributors to so many local economies. Most importantly, expanding TAP will help all New York students take advantage of the higher education setting in which they are most likely to succeed.

Robin Schimminger, D-Kenmore, represents the 140th Assembly District.

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