A series of bills to fund and expand the state's Tuition Assistance Program were introduced Monday.
It comes on the heels of SUNY enrollment increasing for the first time in a decade, but also amid major funding concerns over the next decade. The Tuition Assistance program is about to turn 50, and lawmakers say in the past half-century, it hasn’t kept pace with the changing realities of higher education in New York state.
The state Legislature's higher education committees want to see an increase in TAP funding. They say the goal is to raise the minimum TAP award to $1,000, raise the income threshold from $80,000 to $110,000 or $150,000 and increase overall funding for TAP while expanding the definition of eligible students.
“Today, we are launching what you could call a “Turn on the tap campaign,” said Assembly Committee chair Patricia Fahy (D-Albany). “It’s essential that we not just help our lower income families, but also those middle-income families that TAP used to help, but we haven’t changed the income eligibility.”
She says TAP’s maximum income threshold was last raised from $50,500 to $80,000 in 2000 and hasn’t been updated since amid concerns about enrollment rates at SUNY and across the nation.
In New York, Fahy says it’s about the cost.
“We know we can turn around enrollment if we help families — middle- and low-income — make tuition affordable,” she said.
Fahy said there is also a need to re-evaluate the relationship between award amounts and inflation. The maximum award was decoupled with inflation in 2011 and with SUNY tuition being more than $7,000, the maximum TAP award has only been raised to just over $5,600.
If the income threshold had kept pace with inflation, it would be $122,000, rather than the current $80,000.
Republicans on the committee are on board with the idea of revamping the Tuition Assistance Program.
“We’re mostly aligned with it,” Assemblyman Robert Smullen (R-Gloversville) said.
That said, Smullen says they differ when it comes to the cause of declining enrollment, blaming what he calls the far-reaching impacts of Democratic policies.
“The real issue is population outmigration,” he said. “In order to correct population loss, you need to address the root cause of it, which is the economics of upstate New York."
With the governor set to deliver her State of the State address Tuesday and on the record as saying she doesn’t want to cut education funding, there is hope that priorities will align.
“I know the governor cares a lot about higher education,” said Assemblywoman Sarah Clark (D-Rochester). “We’ve seen it with her willingness to open TAP to part time students, so we’re really hoping. If you look at some of these budget items the cost is not huge.”