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The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

The Student News Site of Stony Brook University

The Statesman

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    Spitzer’s Budget Proposal Gives Higher Education a Boost

    On January 31, 2007, Governor Eliot Spitzer proposed an executive budget of 120 billion dollars. The proposed budget tries to address the health, safety, environmental, educational and fiscal needs of the 19.3 million NY state residents by filling a 1.6 billion dollar deficit without tax increases.

    Among the provisions of the budget is a 4.6% increase in higher education funding for SUNY and CUNY schools. This amounts to a 148.1 million dollar increase in aid to SUNY schools and a proportional 71.8 million dollars to CUNY schools. The budget proposal also recognizes community colleges as a responsibility of the state and allocates an additional 100 dollars per full time entry. This school budget increase comes without a corresponding tuition hike.

    Cate Contino, Program Director of NYPIRG at SBU, says ‘this is the first student and family friendly executive budget proposal in 10 years.’ She continued to outline the benefits of the 2007-8 executive budget proposal, ‘with no tuition hikes, no cuts to financial aid and no cuts to opportunity programs, this is good for students.’

    For Stony Brook University, the executive budget higher education funding increase brings aid to its operational budget. This means more full time faculty, maintenance of buildings and general coverage of mandatory university expenses. A raise in the university operating budget provides SBU with more flexibility to give teaching adjuncts full time positions, ultimately giving students greater accessibility to their professors.

    The increase in state aid would help ‘keep the lights on and sidewalks clean,’ adds Contino. She further explains that if this budget proposal is passed by the Senate, it will help SBU increase its services by ‘getting the little things done – it will address student needs.’

    According to Contino, although the executive budget is a ‘good first step, we can do more.’ There is space for improvement in the state budget’s higher education tuition and financial aid components.

    For example, as part of his executive budget proposal, Spitzer wants to create a higher education commission to develop an affordable, predictable, and rational state college tuition policy. This policy would entail automatic annual tuition increases. According to Contino, incoming students must handle a tuition rise that is set to a price index and is locked for 4 years. She explains that, ‘the policy sets a floor for minimum tuition increase but no ceiling and no end. The tuition hikes can be potentially outrageous.’

    NYPIRG is also pushing for the state to fully fund TAP financial aid. The current system does not allow for mid-year TAP adjustments. TAP financial aid is allocated on a need-basis to students who maintain at least a C average, with family incomes less than 80,000 dollars and extends four years. Contino, judging from these guidelines, maintains that ‘the system cannot be abused.’

    Unlike students with federally subsidized Pell grants, most students with state-funded TAP aid who find themselves in emergent financial situations cannot appeal for more aid mid-year because of the existing eligibility requirements. According to a recent NYPIRG press release, ‘nearly 60% of full-time students statewide receive TAP.’ A student’s current TAP aid is based on his or her FAFSA report from the previous year. Therefore, any drastic change in income will not be accounted for until the following year.

    NYPIRG insists that adjustments to the state budgets are necessary so that ‘New York students [can] adjust their state financial aid awards just as they can at the federal level.’

    An additional NYPIRG reform platform targeting the state budget is TAP financial aid reform for graduate students. According to Contino, ‘graduate students are the workhorses of the SUNY education system. They are teaching assistants, adjuncts and do research.’

    The current TAP provisions for graduate students range between a minimum semester award of 75 dollars to a maximum award of 550 dollars and is limited to students who have an income below the 20,000 dollar ceiling. Contino insists that a ‘better funding mechanism for graduate TAP is needed.’ With the present job market saturated with recent college graduates, one needs at least a Master’s degree to secure a reasonable position. ‘A baccalaureate degree is no longer enough!,’ exclaims Contino. According to NYPIRG, the state budget should be amended to provide more aid to the future NY workforce.

    Ultimately, although the budget amendment process is ‘huge and complicated,’ says Contino, students should be ‘optimistic for a student and family friendly outcome.’

    The executive budget is proposed annually by the governor and sent to the Senate, along with the senate proposal, for debate, amendment and eventual approval. Among the promises set by Governor Spitzer is a timely approval of the state budget.

    ‘NY has a 20 year history of late budgets,’ says Contino, ‘and all schools would benefit from a timely budget.’ She continued to explain that a budget passed on time would ensure that schools have the opportunity to appropriately outline and allocate their resources as soon as the fiscal year begins. This year’s state budget is due on Apr. 1.

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