New Paltz students, professors and New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG) members met with state officials in Albany on Tuesday, March 12 to advocate NYPIRG’s platform for higher education.
According to the NYPIRG website, their higher education model is to promote access for all students to an affordable and high quality college education. NYPIRG chapters throughout the state are combating issues such as protecting the funds for higher education, making textbooks affordable and restoring and protecting the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) with local state officials.
“We had a great turnout of students from chapters all over the state, nearly 200. We also were joined by several professor unions from around the state, including the SUNY New Paltz Chapter of United University Professions, so a lot of professors came too like Professor Brian Obach and Professor Peter Kaufman,” second-year English major and NYPIRG member Coleen Higgins said. “SUNY New Paltz sent 25 students and four professors all together. Appointments went very smoothly and I’d say the day was an overall success.”
One priority, Higgins said, is enforcing the New York DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors). This would allow immigrant students to apply for state financial aid, as well as create private DREAM funds that would provide scholarships, moving toward the goal of creating equal opportunities for all New Yorkers, according to the NYPIRG press release.
Higgins said that restoring the higher education budget in the state is the real issue.
“Funding for a higher education in [New York] has been cut nearly $1.7 billion since 2008, meanwhile we are being hit with the burden of tuition hikes and a lower quality education,” she said. “This forces many of us to go into severe debt, which can impact you for the rest of your life.”
Second-year public relations and sociology double-major and NYPIRG intern Carly Rome said she attended the lobby to gain a better understanding of the legislation behind higher education.
“I hoped to gain lobbying experience and a better understanding of the legislative process involved in making these important decisions on higher education budgets and laws,” she said. “In the training process, I learned more information on the state of public higher education in our state and about the SUNY 2020 plan that involves tuition increases for all SUNY schools.”
The New York Federal Bureau of Economic Analysis showed that student loan debt has risen 511 percent from 1999 to 2011, according to the NYPIRG press release. Tuition has increased 559 percent since 1985. The analysis also found that the average student nationwide pays more than $1,000 on textbooks annually and in 2011 after SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher and Governor Cuomo passed NY SUNY 2020, tuition will be raised $300 each year for the next five consecutive years, the press release said.
In 2010, 375,000 TAP recipients had their awards cut by $75 due to rule changes which were designed to fit the state’s new budget, according to NYPIRG.org.
Although recent legislative policies have not solved the student debt crisis, some acts have been put forward to soften the blow.
According to the press release, U.S. House Representative Janice Hahn introduced the Student Loan Grace Period Extension Act that seeks to extend student loan grace periods from six to 12 months. “Know Before You Owe” policies have also come to the forefront of the issue, according to the release, and keeps consumers informed about college debt and affordability, however, it still does not solve the problem of debt.
“Restoring the state’s higher education budget will provide an overall higher quality of education that New Yorkers receive, and provide easier access to higher education for everyone, on top of aiding recovery to the State’s economy,” Higgins said.