What Do You Think?
New York's Failing Grade for College Affordability
New York Senator Liz Krueger writes that college students in New York have to bear a greater burden in college costs than students in any other state. The costs for low- and middle-income students to attend public universities and community colleges here represent nearly 50 percent of their annual family income.
September 17, 2006
Too Poor to Graduate
By LIZ KRUEGER
HERE’S something to think about as college students across the state settle into campus life.
According to a recently released study by the Department of Education, paying for college is a greater burden for New Yorkers than in any other state. The costs for low- and middle-income students to attend public universities and community colleges here represent nearly 50 percent of their annual family income. Furthermore, a new study on higher education put out by the National Center for Public Policy and Higher Education, a nonprofit group, gave New York a failing grade for affordability.
This growing financial burden has resulted in more post-college debt and has forced students to work longer hours to make ends meet while in school and to take longer to complete degrees. This has translated into lower graduation rates. And yet the demand for entry-level workers with college degrees continues to spread.
Who loses when this happens? New York businesses, which are left with a shortage of employees. If our workers fail to meet the intellectual and educational demands of 21st-century businesses, then businesses will leave the state, just as many young adults who can’t afford to live here are doing and will do if they can’t find jobs. A stable and growing economy needs an educated work force, and an educated work force is possible only with investments in our state’s system of higher education.
Meanwhile, the costs of college tuition, books and fees continue to rise as federal and state financing for higher education has decreased. Because of that, middle-class students who have to rely on loans to pay tuition are saddled with increasing debt. And lower-income New Yorkers are less likely to attend college and more likely to remain in poverty and dependent on government assistance as a result.
Recent national data shows that the graduation rate for high-income students in four-year colleges is 66 percent higher than it is for low-income students. And this school year’s fixed rate for federal Stafford Loans is now more than 6.5 percent. Two years ago, the rate averaged below 3 percent. What’s more, the president’s proposed budget for next year eliminates federal financing of low-interest Perkins Loans, which are available to students through their institutions, and has again frozen Pell Grants at a maximum of only $4,050 per student for the fifth consecutive year.
In the wake of these federal assaults, state action is even more critical. Fortunately, in New York, the Legislature has rejected Gov. George Pataki’s efforts to cut the Tuition Assistance Program, the Higher Education Opportunity Program and the Education Opportunity Program. The Legislature also overrode the governor’s vetoes of increases in financing for the State University of New York and the City University of New York.
And that’s good because investment in these programs have benefited the state in many ways. For instance, 80 percent of Education Opportunity Program students remain in the state after graduating, returning more than $200 million in revenue to New York through income and sales tax. Similarly, students who were provided financial assistance through the state and city university programs returned an additional $130 million every year. And yet the state’s investment in these programs has been a small fraction of our return.
But simply restoring these attempted cuts is not enough. In addition to investing in education opportunity programs, and systems like SUNY and CUNY, Albany needs to encourage college graduation rates by increasing scholarships and student aid, lowering interest costs on student loans and instituting loan forgiveness programs for students who commit to public service careers in fields where the state faces shortages, like teaching, nursing and firefighting.
All parents, of course, want their children to have the best opportunities for their future. We need to consider that logic and understand that the future of New York State’s economy depends on providing access to higher education and to job opportunities after graduation.
Liz Krueger is the state senator representing New York’s 26th district.