Assemblywoman Nicole Malliotakis (R,C,I-Brooklyn,Staten Island), Assemblyman Ron Castorina Jr. (R,C,I,Ref-South Shore), Assembly Minority Leader Brian M. Kolb (R,C,I,Ref-Canandaigua), Assemblyman Chad Lupinacci (R,C,I-South Huntington) and members of the Assembly Republican Conference held a press conference yesterday to introduce the Affordable College For All Initiative. The plan is a comprehensive bill package that will provide broad-based relief for the cost of college tuition for New York’s students. The proposal modernizes the state’s existing Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), expands the number of eligible students, increases the amount of funding available and assists recent graduates currently paying student loans. The plan has been offered as an alternative to the governor’s taxpayer-funded “free-tuition” proposal that was included in his 2017-2018 Executive Budget, and the “DREAM Act,” a tuition assistance plan for illegal immigrants repeatedly pushed by Assembly Democrats.
“Increasing tuition assistance and expanding current programs to benefit more of our middle-class citizens has been a priority of mine for years, which is why I’ve introduced legislation to accomplish those goals during the past few sessions. While I was pleased to learn that the governor now shares my intent, his plan simply misses the mark. Our Conference’s proposal offers much more equitable and effective means to finally bring tuition relief to students,” said Malliotakis. “By expanding the income eligibility threshold, which hasn’t increased since 2000, and restoring tuition assistance for graduate students, we can help alleviate student debt for our struggling middle-class citizens.”
“I was proud to stand beside my colleagues today as we unveiled our plan to expand higher education to current and aspiring college students in New York State,” said Castorina. “Earlier this year, Gov. Cuomo presented us with his ‘free college’ plan that categorically ignores sound fiscal policy, while misleading the public in its intended results. We simply cannot afford to increase taxes and spending as we continue to be one of the most taxed states in the country. Our program expands eligibility while increasing the size of grants available under the Tuition Assistance Program. I am confident our program will broaden higher education to a greater number of students while keeping our state fiscally solvent.”
The Assembly Republicans’ proposal would:
- Increase the Household Income Cap Threshold: This proposal would raise the threshold for TAP eligibility from $80,000 to $125,000 (phased in over three years). It would also assist college students who attend both public and private schools and help families with children attending any college in the state – not just a select few. The threshold has not been increased since 2000.
- Provide an Additional $500 to Every TAP Recipient & Increase the Maximum TAP Award to $6,470: This would benefit low-income and middle-income students, as well as higher education institutions. When the state passed rational tuition in 2011, part of the agreement required institutions to cover the “TAP Gap,” which is the difference between the maximum TAP award and the full tuition rate. Increasing the maximum TAP award would take this burden off of institutions and continue to alleviate the cost of tuition for students. TAP for graduate students was eliminated in 2010 due to fiscal issues but was never restored.
- Make Graduate Programs Eligible for TAP: According to a 2014 report in US News & World Report, the average graduate school student from the class of 2012 took on $57,600 in combined graduate and undergraduate debt. This fiscal pressure serves as a disincentive to attend graduate school.
- Reduced Taxable Income for Student Loans: This would provide a tax break on both the interest and principal of student loans. Single filers can receive up to $4,000, head of household filers can receive up to $6,000 and married filers can receive up to $8,000. Income eligibility thresholds for the tax break would be $80,000 for single filers, $120,000 for head of household and $160,000 for married couples.
Additionally, the proposals would reduce the cost of tuition for the nearly 300,000 students who currently receive TAP, increase eligibility for approximately 36,000 students to receive tuition assistance as a result of increasing the income threshold, and provide more than 7,000 graduate students with TAP benefits. The plan will also help students attending private institutions, and offer a broad tax deduction to all New Yorkers paying student loans.
There are a number of issues with the governor’s proposal, according to Malliotakis. The “free” tuition program offered by the governor:
- Does not help those already attending private colleges and universities;
- Does not help those currently struggling to pay back student loans;
- Prioritizes illegal immigrants over graduate students;
- The governor’s Excelsior Scholarship requires students to take 15 credits per semester and permanently disqualifies students who fall below that threshold. The TAP program more reasonably requires 12-credits per semester for eligibility; and
- Punishes the student instead of the institution by stripping students of their TAP award if the college or university increases its tuition by $500.