Klein offers plan for lowering college costs

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State Sen. Jeffrey Klein presented a plan for lowering college costs by expanding scholarship and tuition assistance programs, when he spoke last week at the College of Mount Saint Vincent, a private school whose students would not benefit from proposed expansions of tuition-free education at state and city colleges.

The plan by the Klein-led Independent Democratic Conference, or IDC, would raise income eligibility for the Tuition Assistance Program, widely known as TAP, reinstate the Liberty Scholarship and create a pre-paid college tuition program, among other measures.

A group of Mount students traveled to Albany earlier this year to lobby for additional funding for programs such as TAP. The students also criticized Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan that would offer tuition free education at CUNY and SUNY for students whose families earn up to $125,000 per year.

Students and faculty members applauded Klein’s March 9 proposal on their campus.

“It’s an awesome opportunity for the students coming in,” said Pedro Figueroa, a senior, who attended the announcement. “I feel like that’s going to be a better opportunity for a lot of inner-city and middle-class families.”

Although Figueroa, who graduates in May, said he does not qualify for TAP because his family’s income is above the eligibility limit for the program, he said he was glad it would help other students get the funding to attend the colleges of their choice. Figueroa’s financial aid consists of scholarships from the Mount, loans and work-study.

“I want them to expand their horizons. I want them to go further. I want them to… get the same opportunities I got but at a cheaper rate,” he said.

Damarcus Williams, the Mount’s student government association president, praised Klein’s proposal for potentially helping middle-income students.

“One of the things I love about Klein’s plan is that they’re not only looking at those students that are coming from either low-income or high-income,” Williams said. “We have those middle-class students who are… dying in the education world because they cannot afford the opportunity that they need.”

By contrast, Cuomo’s proposal for tuition-free education at CUNY and SUNY colleges earned no praise from Williams. Many students, Williams said, want to attend private colleges because of the smaller class sizes or other factors. They should not have to shoulder the steep cost of a college education.

Williams, a junior, has been financing his education through scholarships from the college, Pell Grants and a student loan, he said. He receives no funding through TAP, he said.

The presidents of two private colleges in the area also praised the IDC’s plan. Charles Flynn of the College of Mount Saint Vincent and Brennan O’Donnell of Manhattan College previously had both expressed concerns about Cuomo’s plan, saying it was not clear how the plan would be financed or how the CUNY and SUNY budgets could accommodate an increase in students.

“The Senator’s proposals and the proposals of the IDC are well formulated. They are workable. They are creative,” Flynn said.

O’Donnell said in a statement that the “plan recognizes that higher education is still the best investment that families and government can make in their futures. The plan also wisely recognizes that all students deserve support in making higher education more affordable, whether they choose to attend private or public colleges.”

The IDC plan also calls for striking student debt records from credit reports, creating a pre-paid college tuition plan, which would allow parents to lock in current tuition rates at participating New York schools, reinstating the Liberty Scholarship, which covers non-tuition expenses such as housing and books, establishing a College Debt Freedom Account that would allow employed residents to set aside part of their pre-tax income for undergraduate loan repayment and employers to match employee pre-tax contributions up to $2,500, increasing TAP’s minimum award to $2,000 over the next three years, and increasing the tax credit for families to $2,500 from $400.

“I know that the governor put out a plan, a robust plan,” Klein said. “But the problem is it only helps individuals, who decide that they want to go to a SUNY or CUNY school… But, I think we have to have college affordability for all. And if you decide that you want to go to a private institution, you should have the ability to get assistance as well.”

A spokesperson for Klein said his office is currently negotiating a budget, which will determine how TAP will be funded. But many students were hopeful about its prospects.

“I’m really excited to see what the future holds with, what Sen. Klein can do for future college students and it’s a really great plan that I’m looking to see succeed in the future,” said Figueroa.

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