College students rally against Cuomo's planned aid cuts

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo has called for eliminating more than $35 million earmarked for dozens of private nonprofit colleges across the state, and students aren’t happy.

More than 1,000 of them, in fact, traveled to Albany on Feb. 14 to voice their concerns to lawmakers, hoping they can keep that money in what looks to be a tight state budget.

The trek to the capital was part of Student Aid Advocacy Day, organized each of the last 10 years by the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities. It affords college students and faculty the opportunity to meet with state legislators to lobby on behalf of additional student aid funding. 

Cuomo’s proposal would slash the state’s direct institutional, or “Bundy,” aid program, which helps more than 100 educational institutions including Manhattan College and the College of Mount Saint Vincent. Created under Gov. Nelson  Rockefeller in 1968, the Bundy aid program provides funding based on the number of students the school graduates. That in turn provides incentives to those schools to support students all the way to a degree in order to receive additional state funding.

Typically, schools use Bundy aid to offer scholarships, according to commission communications director Emily Donohue. Other colleges have used Bundy funds to cover operating costs rather than to improve the learning experience, however — a practice that has garnered criticism from state officials.

“The Bundy aid is to help ensure that students graduate in four years and schools do what they need to do,” said Manhattan College legal counsel Tamara Britt, who was among those making the Albany trip. “Whether we need to enhance services here at the college, we have the discretion to do that. It’s not brick-and-mortar.”

Manhattan stands to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars in state assistance each year, Britt said. 

The school received around $270,000 last year, and is set to pick up nearly the same amount this year. 

If Cuomo gets his way, next year that figure will drop to zero. 

Manhattan has used Bundy aid in recent years to update student computer labs and provide financial aid to students who don’t qualify for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP, which awards annual grants of up to a little more than $5,000 to all state residents who attend approved in-state colleges and universities.

In Bundy’s place, Cuomo wants to direct just under $23 million into the Enhanced Tuition Award, which requires recipients come from households reporting less than $100,000 in annual income, and to remain in New York after graduation. Unlike Bundy, where funds are directed to private schools, the Enhanced Tuition Award provides matching funds up to $3,000 that is given directly to students.

However, Cuomo’s proposed budget also would cut funding to assistance programs like TAP, the Higher Education Opportunity Program, and the Science and Technology Entry Program by 17 percent, according to the colleges commission. 

“Many of our students rely on such funding,” said Ronald Pecci, the Higer Education Opportunity Program counselor at Mount Saint Vincent. 

“New York State’s financial aid programs make higher education a real possibility for all students.”

Liam Moran, junior class representative in Manhattan College’s student government, said he already stretches every dollar to accommodate classes and commuting from Washington Heights. 

He feared cutting Bundy funding would make school even more expensive. 

“The prospect of a major rise in tuition fills me with unease and even dread,” Moran said.

Yet, Moran left Albany feeling more optimistic than when he arrived after meeting with state Sen. Marisol Alcantara.

“Our message and concerns were heard,” Moran said. “Action will be taken.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Aaron Mayorga, an intern at The Riverdale Press, is a student at Manhattan College.

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