Dec. 10, 2014

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Kowal calls for changes to TAP

uupdate 12-10-14

Read UUP's TAP testimony

UUP President Fred Kowal, right, speaks out strongly in support of the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, advocating for major structural changes and major funding increases to a program that has been a lifeline for college students. Beside him is Steve London, first vice president of the Professional Staff Congress/CUNY.

“This is an issue that I believe is an issue of justice and fairness,” Kowal testified before a Dec. 10 hearing of the Assembly Higher Education Committee in Albany, chaired by Manhattan Democrat Deborah Glick. NYSUT Vice President Andy Pallotta, who oversees the union’s legislative initiatives, attended the hearing as a show of support for NYSUT’s two largest higher education affiliates, but did not testify.

In his testimony, Kowal outlined a three-part plan for bringing TAP into the 21st century—four decades after it was conceived as a state grant program for college students back when the typical college student went directly to college from high school and graduated in four years.

After the hearing, Kowal spoke at a news conference organized in the Legislative Office Building by the TAP Coalition, a group of faith-based organizations, student activist groups and labor which, like UUP and the PSC, is seeking a major overhaul of TAP.

The key points of Kowal's testimony include: passage of the New York DREAM Act, an increase of the maximum TAP award for full-time students to $6,500, and expanded TAP aid to three high-needs groups: part-time students, independent adult students, and low-income students who aren’t in the state’s Educational Opportunity Program.

Budget cuts have eliminated hundreds of slots to the EOP program, which provides special support for high-needs, low-income students. NonEOP students are limited to eight semesters of TAP eligibility. EOP students are eligible for 10 semesters of TAP aid, which takes into account the special challenges these students sometimes face to complete college in four years.

Yet, as Kowal testified, hundreds of students who would have been eligible for EOP in earlier years are now turned away each year from the program for lack of available slots—and they still cannot benefit from the extended TAP eligibility.

Underlying these problems, Kowal said, is the fact that the typical college student no longer exists. Thousands of students who entered the country as undocumented minors are now in New York’s public colleges and universities, and they are ineligible to apply for TAP. Passage of the New York DREAM Act—which passed the Assembly last session – would allow these students to apply for TAP aid.

The maximum TAP award of $5,165 no longer covers a year’s tuition at SUNY or CUNY, which costs in-state students $6,170 and $6,030, respectively. Add to that the fact that the number of part-time and independent adult students has greatly increased in the last 40 years—two groups that barely qualify for TAP assistance—and the program desperately needs revamping, Kowal said.

“I have spoken often about the underfunding of SUNY, but it goes hand-in-hand with the issue we are discussing today,” Kowal stated in the testimony he submitted during the hearing. “Millions of dollars in state aid have been cut from SUNY since 2010, and the result has been catastrophic.”

London agreed.

Glick and members of her committee listened closely, and then Glick asked the two unions to come back to her before budget negotiations begin with a more specific plan for revamping TAP. One of the potential obstacles, she said, is that some lawmakers fear that expanded TAP eligibility will mean more students prolonging their path through higher education.

Kowal and London countered that learning is a lifelong process that can no longer be compressed in a single four-year college experience. But they agreed to provide a more specific proposal for a revamped TAP.

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