New York Companies Need Diverse, Educated Work Forces

Albert J. Simone, President, Rochester Institute of Technology

During the past several weeks, we have seen a number of very encouraging announcements related to increasing public investment in one of our country’s most important natural resources.I’m referring to our future work force -- students who are or will soon be enrolled in the hundreds of colleges and universities nationwide.These announcements are, of course, welcome news to students and their families and to colleges and universities. They are also critical to New York state's economy, and to the companies that depend on an educated work force to prosper.In January, President Clinton, in his final budget, proposed significant increases in Pell Grants, College Work Study and other student aid programs, and also endorsed Sen. Charles Schumer’s proposal to make all college tuition deductible from federal taxes.Last month, state Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno and Senate Higher Education Chairman Kenneth LaValle, R-Port Jefferson, Suffolk County, announced a landmark proposal to expand New York state’s Tuition Assistance Program.This proposal would increase the maximum award to $5,000 and extend eligibility to families who earn up to $80,000 after deductions.This "College Bound" program would also make tuition fully tax deductible in New York state.These proposals signify a growing recognition of higher education as an investment in the future of our young people, our nation and our economy. Companies depend on increasing numbers of workers who have the technical skills and knowledge base to help these firms stay on the leading edge and compete in a global economy. In this critical criterion for economic growth New York state has a distinct advantage -- one of the largest, most diverse and cost-effective systems in the world including more than 100 independent colleges and universities and two major public university systems.The Rochester area exemplifies this diversity, with institutions of higher learning including technological universities such as the Rochester Institute of Technology, as well as liberal arts and community colleges, that collectively enroll more than 75,000 students.TAP has been a great incentive to New York students to stay in the state to earn their college degree. In recent years, however, the competitive advantage that TAP provided has eroded.The maximum tuition grant has fallen behind comparable programs in several other states, including New Jersey, Illinois and Ohio. In terms of higher education appropriations per capita and appropriations per $1,000 of personal income, New York ranks well below the national average, at 42nd and 46th respectively.Increasing the maximum TAP award is vital if we are to keep our brainpower in New York state.The evidence suggests, however, that we need to do more. Other states, such as Pennsylvania, have been feeding on our productivity, offering incentives in the form of student loan forgiveness and other bonus payments to attract graduates.Meanwhile, New York companies, particularly upstate, lament their difficulties in finding talened workers. The most precipitous decline among population groups in upstate New York has been in the 20-to-29-year-old age group, young people recently out of college who seek job opportunities elsewhere.For example, between 1992 and 1997, this segment of the population declined by 170,000. Many of these young people are going to other Northeast states such as Pennsylvania and Massachusetts that are similar in demography and geography to upstate New York.We can win back these young people, and show them the advantage of living and working in upstate New York -- but we need help.The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities has proposed a program for graduates of New York institutions who have majored in computer science or engineering and who remain in-state after graduation: A maximum education loan of $10,000 would be forgiven for each year of in-state employment, up to four years.Such a program would be an important complement to TAP and tuition tax deductibility by providing a financial incentive for graduates to build their careers in the Empire State. Like TAP, it is an essential and a wise investment in our future.