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Some private colleges reject enhanced TAP over matching grant rule

Several private colleges and universities in Western New York won't participate in a new state financial aid program that includes some of the same controversial strings attached to the free-tuition program for the public SUNY campuses.

Daemen College, Medaille College, D'Youville College and St. Bonaventure University have informed the Higher Education Services Corp., the state entity that doles out college financial aid, they won't opt in to the Enhanced Tuition Awards Program.

Canisius College, Niagara University, Alfred University, Hilbert College and Trocaire College have decided to participate in Enhanced TAP this year.

Enhanced TAP provides up to $6,000 to middle-income students who attend private colleges and universities in New York. It was launched this year in conjunction with the free-tuition Excelsior Scholarships that apply only to students at in-state public colleges and universities.

Several private college and university leaders called the Enhanced TAP program too restrictive for students and too expensive for their institutions. The program requires institutions to match the amount the state pays for each student, up to $3,000. Colleges and universities enrolled in the program must also freeze tuition for Enhanced TAP recipients for the length of their eligibility for the program.

In addition, Enhanced TAP recipients must reside in New York State for up to four years after completing their degrees, or else the grants convert into loans. Students also must complete 30 credits per year, earn passing grades and graduate within four years to receive the aid.

"We think it's unfair to students to impose upon them all of these restrictions," said Gary A. Olson, president of Daemen.

Medaille President Kenneth M. Macur said Enhanced TAP punishes students and private colleges, which in New York award $5.1 billion in financial aid to students annually.

"It's a punishment to say you have to match extra dollars, on top of the $5.1 billion already provided," Macur said. "We're already giving 60 percent of tuition away in scholarships. For the governor to say that's not enough is ludicrous."

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state legislators agreed on Enhanced TAP during budget negotiations in April. Colleges and universities had until June 19 to let HESC know whether they will participate in the program for the 2017-18 academic year. Students from families earning up to $100,000 annually qualify. The income level eligibility increases to $110,000 in 2018 and to $125,000 in 2019 – the same as with the Excelsior Scholarship.

The late rollout of Enhanced TAP puts private colleges and universities in a particular bind this year because they've already largely expended their financial aid budgets for the 2017-18 academic year. It's one of the reasons St. Bonaventure University and D'Youville College opted out this year, according to the presidents of those two institutions.

"We didn't budget for that additional aid in our budget process," said Lorrie A. Clemo, D'Youville president. "Those decisions were made in December."

St. Bonaventure provided more than $28 million in financial aid to students enrolled this fall, said President Dennis DePerro. Adding more in August, when HESC determines the Enhanced TAP awards, "would be detrimental to the university in the short term,” DePerro said.

Even the colleges opting into the aid program had complaints.

John J. Hurley, president of Canisius, said it was poorly conceptualized and implemented, because most students received their financial aid offers back in February for this fall.

"We've already given very generous packages," Hurley said. "To have a program that compels us to offer more than we're already offering, it's just not that helpful."

Hurley said Canisius will probably limit the Enhanced TAP grants to fewer than 100 students.

Alfred was limiting its participation in Enhanced TAP for 2017-18 to 25 students because the university already had awarded its "best possible" aid packages, said spokeswoman Susan C. Goetschius.

Some schools that opted out this year said they will reconsider for 2018-19. DePerro said he wanted to see the tuition freeze provision eliminated and an increase in state funding to make Enhanced TAP more comparable to the investment in the Excelsior program. The state this year budgeted $19 million for Enhanced TAP and $163 million for Excelsior.

Other college leaders said they doubted their institutions will sign up for Enhanced TAP next year, even if the program aligns more closely with the regular financial aid calendar. Olson said he doesn't think that Daemen will lose students to other private institutions that participate in Enhanced TAP, because Daemen provides plenty of financial aid.

"We give $25 million a year in our own scholarship money," he said. "We give a very generous package to all of our students."

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