ALBANY — The state’s for-profit colleges are calling on the state Legislature to expand tuition assistance eligibility and increase awards instead of passing Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s scholarship and tuition rate proposals, which they say could hurt them.
“It’s great that the governor is focusing on access and affordability, but in our mind, it would make a lot more sense if there are extra funds to just expand the existing Tuition Assistance Program,” said Donna Gurnett, president and CEO of the Association of Proprietary Colleges (APC).
The association represents 14 degree-granting colleges with 25 campuses across the state, serving approximately 35,000 students and employing more than 6,000 people.
Cuomo’s proposed Excelsior Scholarship program, one of the cornerstones of his 2017-18 executive budget, would allow eligible full-time students to attend the state’s two- and four-year public universities tuition-free. Students would be eligible if they come from households earning up to $125,000 annually once the plan is fully rolled out in 2019. It’s estimated to cost $163 million a year once fully implemented. Under the “last dollar” program, the state would cover tuition owed by state and city college students after the application of federal Pell and state TAP grants. It does not cover additional costs, like books and fees.
The proposal has been a point of contention among independent, private and nonprofit schools, which were not included in the proposal and are fearful it could result in enrollment declines.
“Almost no state invests more in private college than New York –- totaling $2.4 billion since 2011 and another $400 million this year alone,” Cuomo spokeswoman Dani Lever said in an email. “The goal of the Excelsior Scholarship is to help the neediest students afford college, not subsidize tuition hikes for private schools which in recent years have increased their tuition by $1,000 a year and currently average $34,000 annually.”
Proprietary colleges are more troubled over a proposal in the executive budget, which would cut TAP to private, independent and nonprofit colleges that raise tuition by $500, or more annually, Gurnett said.
Proprietary schools do not receive any other direct federal or state taxpayer support, but do get aid such as TAP and Pell grant dollars that follow the students. The state allocates approximately $1 billion in TAP annually.
The proposal would not affect current students, but would not allow TAP dollars to follow future students to schools that have not kept increases below $500 or the Higher Education Price Index, whichever is greater.
APC members have either kept tuition increases to between 1 and 1.5 percent, have held it flat, and a few have decreased tuition over the past few years, Gurnett said. “Our biggest concern with that particular proposal, however, is especially with our colleges … there may come a time down the road when one of our members wants to build a new dorm, or make a critical technology investment or something … tuition is the only source of funding for that.”
In the 2016-17 academic year, APC members provided more than $92 million in instructional aid for their students to offset the cost of tuition, Gurnett said.
“It really comes down to student choice,” she said. “A student should be able to choose where to go to college and not be penalized … based on what kind of college they decide to go to. SUNY and CUNY certainly have their advantages, but they’re not one size fits all.”
The association is calling on lawmakers to instead raise the maximum eligibility threshold for TAP from $80,000 to $100,000 or $125,000, raising the maximum award amount from $5,165 to $6,500, and raising the minimum award from $500 to $1,000. They also are pushing for the state to bring back TAP for graduate students.
Assembly Republicans and the Senate’s Independent Democratic Conference have put forth similar proposals.
Budget proposals from the Republican-led Senate and Democratic-led Assembly are expected in the next few weeks.
The changes in TAP would be “available to all students, all New Yorkers,” Gurnett said. “It makes more sense to put the funding over there because the folks at SUNY and CUNY can still access them. It benefits all students.”