Buffalo News: Integrity of Student Aid is Key to Economic Turnaround

Joseph G. Burke; President of Keuka College

Gov. David A. Paterson has proposed a $45 million cut in the state Tuition Assistance Program in his 2009-10 spending plan. A good deal of the savings would come from an increase in the number of credit hours a student must take to qualify for a full TAP award. Currently, students must take 12 credit hours per semester to qualify for the full award; the executive budget calls for an increase to 15 credits. TAP awards for students taking 10 to 14 credits would be pro-rated.For some students, an increase to 15 credits will serve as an incentive to graduate on time and receive their full TAP awards. But what about those who are struggling financially and have to work to pay their college expenses?Many of these students are forced to take only 12 hours in order to earn a big enough paycheck to stay in school. If the requirement for a full-time TAP award is raised to 15 credit hours, some students will find it impossible to pursue a college degree and either postpone their studies or forgo them altogether.The governor’s spending plan also calls for an increase in the minimum academic standards for non-remedial students to maintain TAP eligibility. While this will inspire some students to take their studies more seriously, we are also seeing more and more students arrive on college campuses less prepared to do college work than ever before.If these students are also forced to deal with less financial aid, they may find it too overwhelming to pursue a college education.As the president of Keuka College, I face the challenge of continuing to provide a high quality, affordable education in the midst of this fiscal crisis that has gripped our state and nation. Therefore, I can appreciate the enormity of the challenge facing Paterson and the Legislature. However, the proposed $75 million in cuts to student aid programs only will hinder New York State’s economic revival.This year, more than 315,000 students will rely on TAP to help pay for college. Fifty-eight percent of TAP students come from families whose annual income is $20,000 or less. TAP, therefore, is crucial to retaining students in our state which, in turn, is key to New York’s economic turnaround. An educated work force has to be an integral part of any plan to deal with this fiscal crisis. Paterson was right on target in his State of the State speech when he said, “The road to economic development runs right through our schools.”While it’s vital for our legislators to restore funding for student aid programs, they also should support the governor’s proposal to establish the New York Higher Education Loan Program. As some banks stop offering student loans, families are left with fewer financing options. Under this low-interest loan program, students would be able to borrow up to $10,000 annually for college expenses. Like TAP, this program is crucial to keeping higher education accessible to all New Yorkers.