By Jess LaVopa
Students from Purchase met with state senator Shelley Mayer, a Democrat who represents the 37th district, to discuss topics such as Purchase’s road and housing infrastructure, the TAP gap, and the Excelsior Scholarship.
Senator Meyer, whose district includes Purchase, agrees the TAP gap is a serious issue.
TAP, the New York State Tuition Assistance Program, is designed to help students get through college. Like a grant, the money given to a student from TAP does not have to be paid back. The TAP gap refers to the difference between tuition costs and TAP funding for students.
“For Purchase alone, it’s almost one and a half million dollars this year,” said Kevin Dugan, regional supervisor for NYPIRG, a student advocacy group.
Due to the Assembly and the Senate closing the gap with increased college tuition, students are left with higher bills for their college education.
“In the senate democratic majority, which I am part of thanks to many people in this room, we made a priority to try to address the gap between what TAP pays and what the school pays, in part because the tuition problem is so significant,” said Senator Mayer. “The problem of TAP is a very serious one.”
According to Mayer, legislators were not able to get the money they needed out of the budget to do this because of revenue, and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s two percent spending cap prevents legislators from increasing spending even if legislators have a plan to pay for it. In previous years, NYPIRG has requested $65 million for SUNY.
“We weren’t able to do very well at the end of the day in getting what we wanted in the budget,” said Mayer. “In large part because of revenue, and also because the governor has a self-imposed spending cap of two percent. So, even if we found revenue, he wasn’t willing to go above a two percent growth over prior year spending. I think that’s arbitrary when we can find the revenue and I think we should do that.”
The Excelsior Scholarship is a program that gives students the chance to have a tuition-free college education.
To be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship. Students must be a New York resident, plan to live in New York after graduation, and take 15 credits per semester at a SUNY or CUNY.
“15 credits for a lot of students is not realistic,” said Dugan. “There’s been an increase in students trying to take on full loads to both minimize debt and possibly get that Excelsior Scholarship. But then for students who are put under a heavy burden whether it’s health or family issues, it’s a lot.”
Currently, only about four percent of students at Purchase have taken advantage of the Excelsior scholarship, according to Dugan. The scholarship covers tuition only, not other additional expenses such as textbooks.
“I think the Excelsior scholarship - it doesn’t reach a lot of families who need it, and you end up with this amount of debt,” said Mayer. “I think the fact that these presidential candidates are raising it [tuition-free public college], is really the credit to young people saying ‘we’re not going to stand aside and allow this to continue,’ so, I’m with you. I’m interested in finding a solution that works.”
As Chair of Education, Mayer said it was critical to find additional sources of revenue to move towards tuition-free higher education.
Charlie Caspari, incoming PSGA Senate Chair and a NYPIRG Board representative from Purchase, mentioned some of the problematic ways the school has raised revenue for the college.
“Purchase College is in the process of constructing the senior living center on campus,” he said. “The stated reason for the project is to be able to hire more full-time faculty and to create a scholarship fund. Those are basic functions of a college to be able to have students afford to go there and have a full-time faculty.”
Caspari said that outside funding is no replacement for state investment. “A college shouldn’t have to look for outside business ventures to be able to support its basic functions. A public university is supposed to be a public good and supported by the state.”
Infrastructure at Purchase
As Mayer drove onto Purchase’s campus, she said she noticed the many potholes on the roads. Students also brought to her attention the mold in some living spaces, and how the school needs to be more wheelchair accessible.
Senior John Mastroberardino spoke about the poor road conditions at Purchase.
“People have told me stories about breaking suspensions in their cars or popping a tire due to potholes,” he said.
“The arts are near and dear to my heart, but the infrastructure is really unacceptable, and we have to put enough money into it,” said Mayer. “I met with the SUNY Chancellor about capital for SUNY campuses, and being here drives a point very clearly. We have to do better for capital.”
According to Mayer, her office had tried to get the additional investment income for infrastructure but were unable to. Instead, the senator suggested that students send her pictures of potholes, mold, and other issues, so she can bring them directly to the higher-ups in SUNY.
“I’m happy to weigh in with leadership about the roads, I’m happy to make the case for each of these things [TAP, Excelsior]. I would like to have this meeting again next year before the budget meeting so I can tell them these stories,” said Mayer. “SUNY has not gotten the money it needs to continue to do well and now in the majority of the Senate Democrats, along with our colleagues in the Assembly, we are fighting to turn that around.”