BY JONAS MILLER
The College of Saint Rose is fighting back against a proposal that would provide free tuition to certain students who attended public schools in New York State.
Saint Rose joins many private institutions across the state as they object a provision in Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal that would let students whose combined family income falls below $125,000 attend public colleges tuition-free.
In conjunction with the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities (CICU), representatives at the College are proposing the expansion of an existing program, instead of the creation of a new one. The current proposal by Cuomo leaves private institutions out of the equation entirely, opening the door for a mass exodus of current and prospective students from the private education realm.
Lisa Haley-Thomson, chief of staff for the President’s Office at Saint Rose, spoke at a recent Student Association meeting on campus, and urged students to get involved.
“New York has always supported its college students,” Thomson said. “What about you guys?”
Cuomo’s proposal is said to be an attempt to get prospective students to attend a higher educational institution within New York state, rather than going elsewhere, but Thomson thinks he’s missed the mark.
“84 percent of Saint Rose students are from New York state,” she said. “We serve the students the governor said he wants to serve.”
The College’s President, Dr. Carolyn Stefanco, has been a leading voice in fight against Cuomo’s proposal. Last month, she spoke on the local NPR affiliate, WAMC, to voice her concerns with the current structure of the free tuition concept. More recently, she authored a perspective piece that ran both in print and online in the Times Union, saying private schools should be included in the current plan.
“We share Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s goal of making college more affordable for more New York students,” Stefanco wrote. “But regrettably, the governor is advancing proposals that will deprive students of the wealth of educational opportunities that have made New York one of this country’s outstanding educational leaders.”
In both instances, she introduced a popular counter to Cuomo’s idea, expanding the Tuition Assistance Program in New York state. TAP, as it’s commonly referred to, exists as an alternative to student loans, though they are often paired together. It helps eligible students receive a grant of up to $5,165 depending on the academic year in which they are enrolled. Because TAP is handed out in the form of a grant, not a loan, it does not need to be paid back.
More than half of Saint Rose’s 2,600 undergraduate students qualify for TAP, but these students represented a fraction of the 490,000 students statewide who attend private, not-for-profit institutions.
Freshman Katie Geiger fears students won’t even consider schools like Saint Rose because of the price tag that comes along with them.
“Not a lot of incoming students would want to pay $46,000 when they could go to a state school and not worry about the tuition – just the fees, books and supplies,” Geiger said.
Current undergraduate tuition at the College sits at $29,656. When books, students fees and dining plans are included, the total exceeds $40,000.
“It definitely has its pros and cons,” Geiger continued. “I’d love to see the free tuition plan be not only for public schools but also for private.”
In the last five years, Saint Rose has seen significant financial struggles drastically affect their institution. In the fall of 2015, it was announced that more than two dozen programs would be cut and nearly 30 full-time faculty let go. In December, those cuts became official, despite heavy protests from faculty, students and member of the community. As the College works tirelessly to bring in as many students as they can, breaking freshman class records the last two years, a dark cloud looms overhead.
If Cuomo’s proposal were to pass, it would be catastrophic for the College and other private institutions all over the state.
“I feel that the free tuition plan is like one of those ideas where people take it at face value, rather than looking at the negative effects it will have on the community,” said Matthew Pietrykowski, a senior at Saint Rose. “Students that are torn between state schools and private schools will be more likely to choose a state school if their family fits into the qualifications. This will make it harder for not-for-profit schools such as our own to survive.”
The pushback is being called Limitless Learning. CICU has already created a website, Limitlesslearningny.org, and coined a hashtag, #LimitlessLearning. The website offers a call to action page, where students and their families can send letters to their local legislators, urging them to fight against the proposal.
If students are unaware who their legislator is, a quick Google search should do the job, or they can search by zipcode at www.house.gov/representatives/find.
“If you feel like this is something that is important to you we urge you to contact your legislator,” Thomson said. “Now is the time.”