Access and Opportunity Important for Reforming Higher Education
New York State Governor Elliot Spitzer is on track for believing that education will be the engine for the innovation economy he envisions in New York. The economy of the future in New York requires the cultivation of the state’s greatest resource: its people. The greatest untapped resources are New York's poor and low-income high schoolers, young adults aging out of foster care, parents and children from families receiving public assistance and working adults.
One of the recommendation in the plan is a low-cost student loan program to help access. I would urge an extensive expansion of the Tuition Assistance Program, also known as TAP. TAP is a New York State grant that is crucial for poor and low-income students. In the year 2000, the State Senate formed a commission to assess the state of NY’s student financial aid. The commission was headed by Paul Volker, former chair of the Federal Reserve. The panel documented that almost eighty percent of TAP recipients stay in state and add to New York State’s economic growth. The panel strongly recommended increased funding for TAP.
TAP is a great program and NYS needs to put more money in it and raise the income qualifications so more people can get TAP that includes part-time TAP as well. For part-time TAP, eliminating the access defeating requirement that a student must complete one year of college before receiving the grant, as the Schuyler Center notes in its report in August. Further recommendations for community outreach and encouraging students to apply for TAP should also be included in the final report.
The Commission has an alarming recommendation for a college readiness program 'separate from college.' The program, as I understand it, would have high school graduates who need remediation do it "separate from college", that is to say, before the student can enter college. The program has the potential to create a barrier for disadvantaged students and take remediation out of community colleges. Remediation is good for college retention. Students can attend college and pursue higher education while taking the courses they need to bring their skill up in some area that needs it.
Until we can graduate high school students who are college ready we need to have remediation available at the college level. CUNY took remediation out of the senior colleges a few years ago and now has retention problems in all the senior colleges.
Unfortunately, it's hard for low income students from public high schools to compete with better resourced public and private school students. Access and opportunity are CUNY and SUNY's (State University of New York) missions in addition to excellence. Remediation was quite successful in retention of students and, from my own experience, I know that students who did not have the best opportunities in high school can and do blossom in college. To make a separate track for them does not serve the city and state practically speaking. We need to work with the students who are graduating now and not create a program that puts remediation outside the parameters of higher learning.
The Commission has a final report due in the summer. The Welfare Rights Initiative and its coalition partners will be making formal recommendations to the Commission and the Governor soon. I am hopeful that the final policy decisions will incorporate more avenues for access and opportunity than are presently offered.