It’s time to strengthen New York’s commitment to college access through the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP). In the last 40 years TAP has helped four million New Yorkers afford college. But a lot has changed since the program’s founding in 1974, and TAP is behind the times. Updating it would have significant social and economic benefits, like shared prosperity, and a more fulfilled, more engaged citizenry less burdened by student loan debt. TAP grants haven’t kept pace with rising tuition, and student loan debt is reaching a crisis level: 2.7 million New Yorkers now hold outstanding student loans, and 60 percent of New York college graduates last year borrowed an average of $25,537 to pay for college.
TAP should be realigned with the needs of the students and families of today. It should cover more of the cost of tuition for those who qualify, and be flexible enough to meet the needs of all types of New Yorkers, not just the “traditional”straight from high school to college full time student that it was initially designed to serve. We also need to repair the damage done when some students saw their TAP grants cut or eliminated when Albany passed austerity budgets. To these ends, our coalition supports the following updates to TAP: Give excluded students access to TAP.
1) Extend TAP to undocumented youth who arrive in the US before age 16 and graduate from a New York high school or pass a New York accredited high school equivalency program.
2) Restore eligibility for TAP to students in default on federal student loans.
3) Restore TAP grants to graduate students which were eliminated in 2010.
4) Allow currently incarcerated students to once again qualify for TAP grants so that they can earn a college degree. Realign TAP to the current needs of students and families.
5) Increase the TAP maximum award to $6,500 for all students.
6) Get rid of outdated award schedules and the rule requiring that students’ grants be based on the year they enter college.
7) Raise the income thresholds on TAP award schedules for independent single students and married students without dependent children, and provide that all schedules incorporate the same maximum grant level of $6,500. For example, the TAP award schedule for independent single students without children which includes foster children, orphans and wards of the state who are among the state’s neediest is based on a 20 year old schedule that makes them ineligible if they earn more than $10,000 in net taxable income and currently limits the maximum grant they could receive to just $3,025. This rule virtually prevents all poor, single working adult students from receiving any financial aid from TAP.
8) End the $100 per year cut to students’ TAP grants in their last two years of school.
9) Eliminate the requirement that students attend college full time for a year before becoming eligible for Part Time TAP.
10) Add two semesters of TAP eligibility for students who are identified by the State as educationally disadvantaged, but
are not enrolled in New York’s limited Educational Opportunity Programs (i.e. SEEK, College Discovery, and HEOP), which extends TAP for two additional semesters.
11) Increase the number of semesters of TAP eligibility for all students recognizing that the majority of students take
longer than four years to complete a baccalaureate degree. The federal Pell Grant program recognizes this need and provides the equivalent of two additional years.
12) Increase TAP grants for students who come from families with multiple family members attending college at the same time. Simplify the rules and regulations, and improve TAP administration.
13) Revise the TAP definition of independence to match the federal Pell Grant criteria.
14) Let financial aid administrators make changes to students’ grants as is allowed under federal aid programs including Pell Grants.
The current program does not allow for necessary adjustments when students are confronted with serious life changes such as a major loss of income or the death of a parent. Continue to make TAP function better.
15) Create a system that periodically reviews the effectiveness of TAP to ensure that the program remains up to date.
16) Require further training for TAP certifying professionals.
—Kevin Stump, Higher Education Program Coordinator, NYPIRG.