CUNY Financial Aid Cut Decried by Officials

April 14, 2011 Updated: April 14, 2011

STUDENT WOES: Students take notes at a City Council hearing on cuts to the state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).  (Tara MacIsaac/The Epoch Times)
STUDENT WOES: Students take notes at a City Council hearing on cuts to the state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). (Tara MacIsaac/The Epoch Times)
NEW YORK—As part of the cost-cutting measures to close a $10 billion deficit, the state budget now requires students to maintain a full course load and a minimum C-grade average to qualify for financial aid through the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). Students will likely feel the effects of stricter rules when the next school year begins in September.

Higher requirements are meant to ensure that students maintain a basic level of achievement in order to remain on state subsidy, said Jeffrey Gordon of the governor's office.

Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez and the City Council's Higher Education Committee discussed possible effects of the new rules on City University of New York (CUNY) students at a council hearing on Thursday.

To qualify for TAP previously, students needed to complete at least 12 credits and maintain a minimum grade point average (GPA) of 1.3, which is equivalent to a D-plus. Now, students will have to complete at least 15 credits and maintain a minimum GPA of 2.0, which is equivalent to a C-grade average.

“Approximately 81.8 percent of students at CUNY work over 20 hours a week,” said Rodriguez, who leads the City Council's Higher Education Committee. “By increasing the number of credits and requiring the [higher] GPA for a student to receive TAP, we are placing a burden on those young people who can least afford to deal with it.”

Currently, 70 percent of CUNY students receive financial aid, and almost half of these students are TAP recipients, said Rodriguez. CUNY senior college tuition has nearly doubled since 1995, and community college tuition has gone up 57 percent.

“These costs do not include room, board, books, supplies, meals, transportation, and personal expenses,” noted the councilman.

YDANIS ON HIGHER ED: Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the City Council Higher Education Committee discusses tuition assistance for CUNY students at a hearing on Thursday. (Tara MacIsaac/The Epoch Times)
YDANIS ON HIGHER ED: Councilman Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the City Council Higher Education Committee discusses tuition assistance for CUNY students at a hearing on Thursday. (Tara MacIsaac/The Epoch Times)
Rodriguez and CUNY representatives expressed concern at the rising cost of living and studying in the city. They worry that the most disadvantaged students will be the first to turn away from post-secondary education.

Hostos Community College at CUNY has the highest population of low-income students among all of the CUNY institutions. These economically disadvantaged students are also generally the least academically prepared ones, pointed out Nathaniel Cruz, vice president for Student Development and Enrollment Management at the college.

Hostos has the highest number of students with an annual income of less than $14,999, as well as the most students with family obligations and child care costs. Over 65 percent of these students reside in the Bronx, where unemployment rates continue to soar.

The college has stepped up efforts to help its students cover their education-related costs with emergency need-based grants, but Cruz isn't sure how much more the college or the students can afford.

“While our college makes every effort to provide and maintain access to our student body, any additional credit requirements go against the mission of our college and our ability to serve our community,” he said.

The governor's office reports that a 2.0 GPA requirement only goes into effect in a student's third year of study. Prior to that, he or she is only required to have a GPA of 1.8, which is equivalent to a C-minus.

“The TAP program is meant to be an investment in our future,” noted Rodriguez. Over 90 percent of students who graduate from CUNY stay in the city to live and work. Unfortunately, less than 30 percent of CUNY students graduate, the councilman said.

With such a dismal graduation rate, Rodriguez agrees that something needs to be done to improve student performance. Not only are many of the college students in a financially precarious situation, they are also in an academically fragile position.

The councilman hopes to see a comprehensive effort involving the city's Department of Education, CUNY, SUNY, the city, and the state to remedy the failures of the school system at all levels.

Rodriguez gave a word of advice to the new schools chancellor, Dennis Walcott, who officially took office on Thursday. “I think preparing students to be ready for college should be one of his [Walcott’s] top priorities,” he said.