Legislature Helps Part-time Students Get an Education

Joseph Morelle, New York State Assembly and Abraham M. Lackman, President, Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities

Two recent opinion pieces in the Democrat and Chronicle rightfully call for more financial aid for college students with full-time jobs and those working to raise a family while pursuing a degree (editorial, "Working students," May 30, and essay, "Lift barriers keeping adults from earning college diplomas," June 6, by Joseph Moore, president of Empire State College). A major expansion of the state's signature student aid program, approved by the Assembly and Senate just last month, heeds that call and will expand opportunities for part-time study throughout New York. The 2006-07 New York state budget includes a $98 million increase for the Tuition Assistance Program exclusively for part-time students. The new program for the first time in state history makes part-time TAP available to students at independent colleges and universities, SUNY and CUNY. The intention is clear: to help part-time students, working adults, parents and others balance their many financial responsibilities while encouraging their completion of higher education degree programs. Since 1974, New York state has provided TAP grants to residents studying full time as undergraduates at a college or university in the state. The program annually enables nearly 400,000 low- and moderate-income students to attend the college or university that is best for them. TAP increases student access in all corners of the state. In the Rochester area alone, nearly 9,000 students rely on TAP to meet college expenses. In total, 3.7 million students have benefited from this form of financial aid. The new part-time component of TAP strengthens and expands New York's commitment to higher education access and affordability. One in seven undergraduates studying at an independent college or university is enrolled part time. In this area alone, Rochester Institute of Technology has nearly 1,500 part-time students, one of the highest part-time enrollments in the state. Hundreds of others attend part time at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, Keuka College, Nazareth College of Rochester, Roberts Wesleyan College, St. John Fisher College and the University of Rochester. Earning a college degree is more important than ever — whether earned studying full or part time. On average, individuals with a bachelor's degree will boost their lifetime earnings by nearly $1 million more than someone with a high school diploma. This new program will increase opportunities for them to pursue a higher education while opening college doors throughout New York. And it is crucial that these doors be opened for New York's future work force. The forces of globalization will make the marketplace of tomorrow ever more competitive. For upstate New York, where both jobs and young, creative workers are already too scarce, maximum access to college educations is not a luxury. It is a necessity.