TAP Makes College Affordable

Todd S. Hutton, President, Utica College

Utica resident "Janie" is a sophomore at Utica College, majoring in physical therapy. She comes from a family of five: two parents and two younger siblings. Her father works full-time for a local manufacturer, while her mother works part-time evenings at a local clothing store so she can be at home with her younger children during the day.With a total household income of $35,000, Janie is eligible for financial aid through the federally-funded Pell program as well as federal loans and work study, but federal aid does not generally cover the cost of tuition at private colleges and universities. The remainder of Janie’s tuition will be covered by Utica College grants and scholarships, and by TAP, New York state’s Tuition Assistance Program.Janie is not an actual person but she represents a typical student at Utica College. Her story illustrates why it is critical for local residents to understand and support the TAP program. TAP was created in 1974 to assist New York state residents wishing to attend New York state colleges and universities. TAP awards are based strictly on financial need. In areas such as the Mohawk Valley, where the median household income is less than $30,000, TAP offers three essential benefits:First, TAP makes college accessible to all students, regardless of their economic circumstances. Why is this important? In today’s rapidly-changing global economy a college education is becoming increasingly important.Jobs that require complex, high-tech skills — jobs that pay well — require at least an associate’s degree, and opportunities for those without a college education are diminishing.Second, TAP helps create opportunities for students to attend the colleges and universities of their choice. Studies have shown that students who are able to attend the college of their choice stay in school longer, get more out of their college experience, and have a higher rate of actually graduating. And finally, TAP addresses issues of equity and availability of access. New York state is home to many excellent public colleges. New York is also home to over 100 very fine private colleges and universities — the very same colleges and universities that students like Janie attend.According to the Higher Education Services Corp., a majority of students on private college campuses come from working- and middle-class families. More than half (53 percent) come from families making less than $60,000 annually. One quarter (26 percent) are from families making less than $20,000 annually. Private colleges and universities also enroll the largest number of African-American and Hispanic students in full-time four-year programs, and the majority (52 percent) of baccalaureate and graduate degrees earned in New York state by Hispanic and African-American students are from independent sector campuses.In fact, private colleges and universities award more than half (54 percent) of all undergraduate degrees granted in this state. TAP is designed to offer all New York state residents the financial means to attend these institutions. This year nearly 80,000 New York state residents who were enrolled in over 100 private colleges and universities in New York received TAP aid. Of those 80,000 residents, 982 were students enrolled here at Utica College. Without TAP, those students may not have been able to attend the college of their choice, or worse, may not have been able to attend college at all. As college costs rise, financial assistance must keep pace. That is why efforts are underway to increase the maximum TAP award from $4,125 to at least $5,000. Doing so will help address the effects of inflation, and will ensure that New Yorkers can continue to attend the college or university of their choice.I urge parents and students to contact their local legislators and ask them to support this TAP initiative. This can be accomplished easily via mail or by telephone, or by visiting the website of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU) at www.cicu.org/sup_student_aid.html. Simply click on the "LobbyNet" icon and you will be prompted for your name, address, campus affiliation, etc. By clicking "Submit," you can review your e-mail message and then distribute your messages to a number of state officials.Studies have shown that the vast majority of students who graduate from private colleges return either to their home town or to the town where their college is located after they graduate. With 42 percent of matriculated Utica College students coming from the local area, this has particular significance for the Mohawk Valley’s economic future.Please join me in this effort to ensure that residents of New York state don’t have far to travel to find a college education that is both excellent and affordable.