Tuesday, February 20
On Tuesday, Feb. 13, 700 students converged on Albany to lobby for more student aid. Most of them were beneficiaries of aid programs with a blizzard of acronyms–TAP, HEOP, STEP–all programs that help disadvantaged students handle rising tuition at schools in New York State. Most of them couldn’t have gone to college without this aid, and all of them wanted their younger siblings to have the same opportunity. If bills currently pending are any indication, student lobbyists might get at least a bit of what they came for.
Every year in New York for the last seven, former Governor George Pataki cut financial aid programs for the state’s college students in his proposed budgets. In an “annual rite of spring” as a staffer for Assemblyman Jeffrey Klein (D-Bronx/Westchester) told Campus Progress, the state legislature has restored funding to the previous year’s level–no higher. But with a more progressive governor, Eliot Spitzer, now in the statehouse, college students in New York are hoping that will change.
Funding for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), created in 1974 and serving 335,000 New York students each year, hasn’t increased in 16 years for students without family support, and in 20 years for graduate students. TAP grants have fallen behind the rate of inflation, according to statistics produced by the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU). The Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) gives higher awards to fewer students, plucking kids out of poor areas and putting them through a rigorous five-week pre-collegiate program. Columbia University’s 110 HEOP students prepare to read the Iliad before their freshman year; other colleges can choose how to prepare students who arrive on their campuses less prepared than their more privileged peers.
The lobbyists in Albany explained how programs like HEOP allow students to pursue academics while working just one job instead of three, or taking an unpaid internship. And from what I saw–admittedly, a self-selected sample of the most enthusiastic participants in the program–they are all incredibly grateful for the help.
“I can’t believe how fortunate I am to get all this funding for college” said Columbia sophomore Da Quan Rong, who emigrated from China at the age of eight.