2014-15 Tuition Assistance Program Testimony

Examining the New York State Tuition Assistance Program

INTRODUCTION

Good morning and thank you for having us today. My name is Jason Lane, and I am the Senior Associate Vice Chancellor and Vice Provost for Academic Affairs at the State University of New York. I want to thank Chairperson Deborah Glick, Members of the Assembly, and legislative staff for allowing us this opportunity.

It is a privilege to come before you today on behalf of SUNY to comment on the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). I am pleased to be joined today by President Candace Vancko of Delhi, which is currently home to 1,500 TAP award recipients and where TAP payments comprise approximately 27 percent of annual tuition revenue a year. I am also joined by Patricia Thompson, Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Financial Aid Services and Diane Corbett, Financial Aid Director for the University at Albany, both of who have helped to ensure that many SUNY students realize the benefit of the TAP program to its fullest potential. We look forward to sharing our testimony with you today, as well as answering any questions you may have following.

OVERVIEW OF TAP AND SUNY

SUNY is the largest comprehensive system of public higher education in the nation, and nearly one-third of our approximately 460,000 students benefit in some manner from this longstanding and precedent-setting program. This includes 73,000 students, or 35 percent of enrollment, at our 29 State-operated institutions; 76,000 students, or 32 percent of enrollment, at the 30 community colleges operating under the program of the State University; and 800 students, or nine percent of enrollment, within the five statutory colleges at Cornell and Alfred Ceramics.

3 graphs: State Operated TAP Recipients by Sector; Statutory College TAP Recipients by college; Community College TAP Recipients by Regional Economic Development Council REDC region.

Compared to the rest of the postsecondary education institutions within New York State, SUNY is the largest provider of educational services to these students, with over 40 percent of the total TAP population attending SUNY institutions. Also, we are proud to note that the students that receive this benefit from the State have both graduation and retention rates that are on par, or, in the case of many of our institutions, exceed those of students not receiving TAP awards.

I will now ask Patti Thompson, SUNY’s Assistant Vice Chancellor of Student Financial Aid Services, to provide a more in depth look at SUNY’s engagement with TAP and offer our analysis of several aspects of this important program.

Since the inception of the TAP program, the most financially vulnerable New Yorkers have been able to attend a SUNY institution either completely tuition free or with a significant level of assistance.  When paired with federal programs like Pell, scholarships from the State, and the Tuition Credit, which we will discuss in further detail, many of these same students realize a substantial discount on the overall cost of attendance.

The impact of tuition assistance for our students is enhanced by the relatively low rate of tuition charged by our State-operated institutions. As you know, SUNY’s resident undergraduate baccalaureate tuition rates are the lowest among public institutions in the northeast and among the lowest nationally, even when combined with charges that the majority of students pay in addition to tuition. According to a recent study by the College Board, SUNY’s state-operated campus tuition and fees are lower than those charged at public four-year institutions in all but 18 states, and are lower than those charged at other large “mega-states,” or peers such as California, Texas, and Michigan.

Tuition is even lower at our 30 community colleges, which serve as both the first step toward a postsecondary education for many New Yorkers and as a place to gain vital skills to be competitive in today’s job market. Community college tuition rates, which have remained relatively competitive even in the face of repressed State and local support, are all below the maximum TAP award ceiling, which guarantees that New York’s neediest dependent students can pursue the career of their choice without the barrier of tuition.

Average public 4-year resident tuition and fees
2014-15 SUNY state-operated rates versus peer states:
Average public 4-year resident tuition and fees for 2014-15 SUNY state-operated rates versus peer states
Average public 2-year in-state tuition and fees
2014-15 SUNY community college rates versus peer states:

Average public 2-year in-state tuition and fees for 2014-15 SUNY community college rates versus peer states

However, while SUNY’s tuition rates remain low, the benefit of the TAP program and the ability for students to attend our institutions varies by the student’s personal financial status. As you know, the State’s TAP program benefits are tied to a student’s adjusted gross income. Out of the more than 370,000 TAP recipients in NYS, 32 percent receive the full benefit. In comparison, approximately 23 percent of students at SUNY’s State-operated campuses receive the maximum TAP award of $5,165 as well as the SUNY Tuition Credit. However, many of these students receive an additional benefit due to federal programs such as Pell and is enhanced by scholarships, grants, and other support provided by both the State and individual campuses.

Number of TAP and Pell recipients by income range at state-operated campuses:
Number of TAP and Pell recipients by income range at state-operated campusesNumber of TAP and Pell recipients by income range at community colleges:

Number of TAP and Pell recipients by income range at community colleges

IMPACT OF NY-SUNY 2020

Foremost among additional sources of support for student tuition costs is the Tuition Credit. This supplement to the TAP program originated in the landmark 2011 legislation passed by the Legislature and Governor Cuomo, which provided for other historic benefits to SUNY, CUNY, and students such as:

Through this legislation, SUNY and CUNY are also required to provide a Tuition Credit to cover the gap between resident undergraduate tuition at their four-year institutions and $5,000. It is important to note that this additional benefit to our students has not come without a cost; SUNY’s State-operated institutions share the burden of this annual TAP supplement, with an annual incremental cost of approximately $12.0M. Under our most recent projections, we believe that the total cost of providing this support to students will top $169M by June 30, 2016.

Tuition credits - annual and cumulative

IMPACT OF 2014/15 ENACTED BUDGET

The 2014/15 Enacted Budget saw the first increase to the TAP ceiling since 2000/01. While SUNY applauds the direction of this investment of valuable State resources, it is important to note that the direct benefit to SUNY students or institutions was minimal at best due to the combination of SUNY’s relatively low tuition rates and the tuition credit (an average of $42.00 for dependent students at the State-operated campuses).

In addition, this year’s Enacted Budget included the implementation of a “schedule change” for orphans, foster children, and wards of the court. Based on our discussions with the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC), we believe approximately 525 students at both our State-operated campuses and our community colleges are benefiting from this change in 2014/15, all of these students will receive a $2000 award increase, nearly all are receiving a maximum TAP award.  SUNY is currently exploring both our options and opportunity to make this benefit clearer to the target population, and hope to be able to broaden the impact this legislation will have on the current and prospective SUNY student body.

EFFECTIVENESS OF THE TAP PROGRAM AT SUNY AND POSSIBILITIES FOR IMPROVEMENT

As we have outlined this morning, TAP plays a significant role in the lives of our students. TAP is now 40 years old and SUNY is pleased to participate in discussions on this program. It is our goal to work with the Governor, the Legislature, and all sectors of higher education, to ensure that all future students have access to a TAP program that continues to be valuable and contribute to their college attendance and success. 

As you are aware, SUNY submitted our mandated TAP report to the Legislature during the fall of 2013; this report was the result of a comprehensive analysis of the program and includes reviews of several aspects of the program. This morning I will focus on three of these areas:

PART-TIME TAP

Currently, there are two programs that provide financial aid to students who attend college part time, the Aid for Part Time Study Program (APTS) and the Part-time Tuition Assistance Program.

APTS was enacted in 1984 and is a campus-based program that provides an annual allocation to participating campuses based on their prior year part-time enrollment figures.

For many years, an appropriation of $14.6M has been made for APTS. Schools receive their allocation amounts in the summer of each year for the academic year beginning that fall. Eligible students are selected by staff on campus, who are also responsible for determining the amount of the award given to each student. This is different from TAP, which uses award schedules and income formulas to determine awards. The selection, award determination, and reporting for APTS are complex and manually intensive for both college and HESC staff. 

The other financial aid program for part-time students is the Part-time Tuition Assistance Program, which was enacted in 2007. This program has strict eligibility requirements that make the award difficult to obtain. The program requires that recipients show successful completion of prior coursework as a full-time student. Given this requirement, many of our part-time students are unable to receive TAP at any point during their college career. Since the program was enacted, only approximately 5,500 students across the state have met the eligibility requirements.

SUNY’s large population of part-time students (127,000 total; 105,000 at community colleges; 22,000 at State-operated campuses) could benefit from a credit-based approach to TAP funding.

Additionally, we would note that full-time students could benefit from receiving prorated TAP awards based on the number of credits they are taking within their program of study. That is, if a full-time student is taking 12 credits but only nine credits are required for their program of study, the campus would certify them for an award based on the nine allowable credits. This would ensure students receive funding for applicable coursework rather than being ineligible for the term.

The creation of a credit-based part-time TAP award, without any full-time attendance requirement, could bring aid opportunities in line with the real attendance habits and needs of today’s students, many of who work full-time jobs or raise families while earning degrees.

Initial estimates of a cost associated with this approach indicate that finding the resources for it could be a challenge. However, elimination of the current APTS program would partially offset any new costs.

SUPPLEMENTAL TUITION ASSISTANCE PROGRAM (STAP)

The Supplemental Tuition Assistance Program (STAP) was created by the legislature in 1981 to provide supplemental assistance for the successful remediation of educationally disadvantaged students. Currently, existing program requirements limit the scope of this program and cause STAP to underutilized, with only about 100 students having received these funds over the past ten years. 

This is primarily due to the program restricting payment to summer terms only and excludes students in Opportunity programs including the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), College Discovery (CD) and SEEK. 

Expansion of this program to include students in Opportunity Programs and allowing for students to receive these funds for any term of attendance could benefit students. This benefit could be expanded to allow students would also be allowed to attend part or full time. This would alleviate the need to take a full course load in order to receive a TAP award and improve the likelihood of successful transition beyond remediation.

While STAP would be very beneficial to recent high school graduates, research has indicated that many older students have not retained math and writing skills over the years and also benefit from remediation at SUNY campuses.

Since STAP awards are and would continue to be calculated at 50 percent of a TAP award, there will be an overall savings to the State based on that differential, currently projected to be between $5.0 and $10.0M.

INDEPENDENT STUDENTS WITHOUT DEPENDENTS

Last year’s legislative change to significantly increase maximum awards by over $2,000 annually for orphans and students in foster care assisted that population and has greatly increased their funding to attend college. However, it is important to note that there are many independent students who have the same economic status and educational needs as those who are orphans or were in foster care. There are 19,000 students who find themselves in this category across New York State. Currently, the neediest of these students can only receive $3,025 per year. While many of these students are able to maintain a viable existence with family members or friends, it is extremely difficult for them to attend college.

For example, it takes a student under the age of 22 significant efforts to be deemed “financially independent”; they must present third-party documentation to prove involuntary dissolution of the family. The dissolution of the family can be caused by abandonment, abuse, incarceration, or death. Once the determination is made that they are financially independent, these students are eligible for a maximum $3,025 TAP award, far below the current maximum award for dependent students. Increasing the award amounts for independent students without dependents to be more in line with the maximum dependent award would ensure that the maximum benefit to these students is in line with their dependent student classmates.

Increasing the maximum independent award to $5,000, to be closer to the maximum awards for dependent students, would cost approximately $38.0M. It would cost an additional $3.0M to be consistent with the maximum dependent student award of $5,165.

Thank you for your attention; I will now turn your attention back to Jason to complete our remarks.

CONCLUSION

These three approaches we have discussed are similar in theme – they all address the needs of the most academically challenged and financially insecure students who attend or who wish to attend one of our SUNY campuses. It is likely that many students would benefit from more than one, or even all of these approaches.

SUNY would welcome the opportunity to discuss the report in detail. As we said earlier in this testimony, the report is a comprehensive study and the analysis reflects significant research on potential enhancements and changes to this very complex and important program.

In closing, I would like to thank our partners in the administration of the TAP program, the State Education Department (SED), Office of the State Comptroller (OSC), and HESC. We work jointly to ensure that eligible students receive accurate awards at all our campuses, which is no easy task.

I would now like to turn to President Candace Vancko, of SUNY Delhi, for a campus-level view of the effectiveness of the TAP program.

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