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Expanding TAP Would Offer Choice for New York State Families
By: Anthony G. Collins, President, Clarkson University; Cathy S. Dove, President, Paul Smith’s College; and William L. Fox, President, St. Lawrence University
With unmatched choices for students to pursue professional and personal career goals, New York’s comprehensive public-private higher education system is arguably the envy of the world and a key driver of the State’s economy. Governor Andrew Cuomo routinely taps into the network of colleges and universities to impact opportunities for residents and individual communities as well as the economic health of the Empire State from workforce development to advancing research and innovation.
To kick off the New Year, Governor Cuomo introduced the Excelsior Scholarship proposal for free tuition based on family income that will increase public investment in SUNY and CUNY. While national attention on New York’s higher education assets is welcome, government policy that artificially shifts enrollment growth to public colleges and universities doesn’t make the ongoing investment to taxpayers more affordable. Instead, it could have unintended consequences on both public and private institutions by increasing operating costs and the infrastructure needs on some campuses, duplicating enrollment capacity and/or boxing out students from programs due to finite capacity and new selectivity standards.
To create a win-win for students and taxpayers, we believe expanding income eligibility and thresholds to align with in-state public tuition under the State’s existing Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) would more effectively leverage taxpayer investments to ensure affordable access to education for New York’s college-bound students from a wide range of incomes. As an effective student-centered approach to aid, TAP gives college-bound New York students who qualify the ability to choose a New York institution that advances his or her career goals, which supports enrollment retention and degree completion. More than 81,000 students at private institutions currently qualify for TAP.
Clarkson University, Paul Smith’s College and St. Lawrence University currently enroll thousands of New York resident students whose incomes fall below the Governor’s $125,000 threshold yet would not benefit from the Governor’s Excelsior Scholarship as it has been proposed.
Investing in the expansion of TAP also makes good fiscal sense for New Yorkers, since private colleges and universities deliver a highly cost-efficient education. The National Center for Education Statistics reports that the actual amount students pay at private colleges is less than 60 percent of the total cost of tuition, which is due in large part to the abundant private financial aid provided.
Privates demonstrate overall higher retention rates and higher graduation rates, which allow students at private, not-for-profit colleges and universities to avoid costly additional years of tuition and begin their careers sooner. Students graduating from private institutions also tend to have lower federal loan default rates while graduating with a comparable amount of student loan debt to their public counterparts.
Currently, New York dedicates a lower percentage of the State budget to higher education than all but seven states. The State’s budget currently spends approximately $8,860 for each student in the SUNY and CUNY system compared to approximately $650 for students in private, not-for-profit colleges. New York can do this for its taxpayers because its private institutions have the capacity to educate more than half (51%) of all of New York’s baccalaureate degree recipients and the majority of graduate degrees (72% of master’s degrees and 79% of doctoral/professional degrees).
The private colleges in the North Country contribute to the annual $5 billion-plus in institutional aid that New York’s independent colleges and universities provided to students who need financial assistance, coupled with State and Federal grant, aid and loan programs geared towards serving all students.
The Brookings Institution further cites the importance universities play in revitalizing the economy in the decline of traditional manufacturing and other sectors. A report compiled by the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities indicated that Clarkson, Paul Smith’s and St. Lawrence collectively contribute $676 million to the North Country’s economy. College campuses are also stable anchors for businesses and employment in communities around the State, in addition to support of start-ups, new ventures and cultural offerings that benefit everyone in a region or small community.
This is about choice. Students from families of modest means should have the choice to attend a college where they can be most successful, and the State’s policy makers have always recognized this by making the State’s major financial aid programs available to eligible students regardless of whether they attend an in-state public or private school.
As institutions in the North Country that strongly promote and fulfill access to higher education with generous aid for students who need that support, we believe education is an investment that students make in themselves. Expanding New York State’s existing TAP Program keeps some skin in the game for everyone and gives students an incentive to actively participate in the educational experience, think thoughtfully about how education advances their career goals, and strive for opportunities to make a positive impact on our society.
By expanding TAP, lawmakers would ensure that New York families continue to have a choice in where they attend college and would foster access to the diversity and high academic standards of all of New York’s colleges and universities – both public and private.