Watertown Daily Times Op-Ed: Student Aid Cuts Will Harm State in the Long Run

Anthony G. Collins, Clarkson University

If we believe the greatest problem in New York state is our immediate fiscal budget crisis, think again. The hole too deep to climb out of is still to come if we do not look long-term and strategically invest in our future - the people who call New York home. Our state's competitiveness is at stake as our elected officials consider the current Executive Budget. Harmful cuts have been made for 2010-11 student aid programs, including more than $71 million for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).As a taxpayer, I am deeply concerned that New York faces difficult financial challenges. Yet, as a university leader advancing economic development for New York, I know investing in education for our current and future work force delivers one the best returns we can make as a society. Job and wealth creation require innovation and skilled work forces. To make this happen, we all need to be committed to higher education access for all students motivated and qualified to enroll in college regardless of family income. The right to pursue the American Dream belongs to all.But, who is this "all" who has their dream cut out of 2010-11?One of five children, Jennifer is the daughter of a north country dairy farmer. She knows first-hand the grit of hard work and determination as well as how the economy has impacted her family's livelihood. As a junior double-majoring in business and science at Clarkson, she is excelling in our rigorous curriculum. Last summer she joined a faculty member for an entrepreneurship exchange to study how small business is surviving and adapting in the European Union. She is now translating that opportunity to learn about global commerce back to her family's business. It is an experience she will use to build a stronger and better north country - the place she wants to call home and pay her share of taxes.Life in Potsdam can be like life in Brooklyn when you are surrounded by people who care about your future. When he was 13, Mark's mother became ill and his oldest sister accepted responsibility for taking care of the six siblings. His sister, like his mother, knew Mark was bright and talented, and could do more than the factory and restaurant jobs their education had limited them to pursue. Like Jennifer, Mark is excelling in his studies at Clarkson and in the community that has embraced his enthusiasm for volunteer work at the Potsdam Animal Shelter and the Toys for Tots campaign.Jennifer and Mark represent two of more than 4 million New Yorkers who have realized their college aspirations with TAP. Nearly two-thirds of all students currently benefiting from TAP come from families who make less than $20,000 per year. For perspective on the kind of opportunity a Clarkson education affords these students, last year's seniors graduated with an average starting salary of $51,000 - greater than median family income nationwide and a pretty good start to rebuilding our tax base.Please join me now in becoming part of the New York Student Aid Alliance (www.nystudentaidalliance.org) and reminding our elected officials that creating access to education at the undergraduate and graduate levels is a good investment and that we need to bolster our state's commitment to student aid through grants, scholarships and low-cost loans. Federal lawmakers saw the economic incentive to invest in the work force by increasing Pell grants, while New York aid programs stagnate. When all who care about college opportunity and access speak with a unified voice, we can restore and protect the investments in higher education and ensure our state's competitive future.The stories of Jennifer and Mark are real, but the names are pseudonyms shared to maintain their privacy. We invite you to visit our campus in Potsdam to meet the new entrepreneurs, creative engineers and future taxpayers who value their education and the opportunities ahead of them to make a difference in the world.Anthony G. Collins is the president of Clarkson University.