Op-ed: Time to Lower the Price of Higher Ed

Frank Macchiarola, President, St. Francis College

Eleven years ago, when I became president of St. Francis College, a student could receive a maximum of $6,240 for an academic year - $3,900 from TAP and $2,340 from a federal Pell grant. The gap between financial aid and tuition was only $1,170, an amount even the neediest students and their parents could make up from their own pockets or with awards, scholarships and work study.Things sure have changed.Today, the situation is much more difficult for those families who want to send their kids to college. TAP is a maximum of $5,000. Pell is a maximum of $4,310. The gap between those dollars and tuition at St. Francis is now $4,710. Families have to come up with four times the money they needed just a decade ago.The growing gap has made college unaffordable for the working-class people who are most in need of financial assistance. The result is more and more low- and middle-income families are struggling to send their kids to college, deepening the divide between the haves and the have-nots. It is unacceptable that a student lose out on a college education because they cannot afford to pay the tuition. And it doesn't have to be this way.For years, independent colleges have taken on the responsibility to provide an affordable education to everyone. In New York State, between 1990 and 2004, independent colleges tripled the amount of money they give students, increasing their grant total to more than $2 billion from $566 million. TAP, on the other hand, has gone up by only about one-third during the same period.Every dollar counts. The matter of an increase in federal and state aid is now more urgent than ever. If students are going to be given the right to attend the college of their choice, there must be some help from government in the form of greater economic support.That is why state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno's proposal to increase financial aid for college students is an encouraging first step. Gov. Spitzer and the state Assembly must use this plan as a blueprint to help low-income students get the education they deserve.Huge increases are not necessary. This year's incremental increase in Pell by President Bush and Congress offers some hope, but it is in all students' best interest to see maximum Pell grants exceed $5,000. And increasing the maximum TAP award by $1,000 and the minimum award by $500 will go a long way to letting many students inside the walls of academia and getting them out to the working world with a valuable degree.Macchiarola is the president of St. Francis College in Brooklyn Heights. He is also a former New York City schools chancellor, dean of Cardozo Law School at Yeshiva University and former president of the New York City Partnership.