A college education is a powerful tool to empower future leaders, giving them the life-experience, knowledge and professional skills necessary to thrive personally and professionally. Yet crushing student debt continues to inhibit our next generation of public servants and entrepreneurs, and sky-high college costs remain a challenge for prospective students.

Gov. Cuomo’s “free” college program is misleading, at best, and does little to address systemic problems of debt and affordability affecting the broader student population. The Commission on Independent College & Universities (www.cicu.org) recently issued a report that showed a steep decline in student enrollment this fall, as compared to 2016. This threatens an important private sector industry and does nothing to help financially struggling low-and-medium-income students who find themselves at a financial disadvantage.

GETTING MORE HELP TO MORE STUDENTS & RECENT GRADS

The Assembly Minority Conference is renewing its call to enact the Affordable College for All Initiative, which would provide assistance to prospective college attendees at both public and private institutions, as well as address crippling debt holding back recent graduates. Our plan:

Increases the Household Income Threshold – The state’s existing Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) eligibility limit has not been adjusted from $80,000 in almost two decades. We propose phasing in raising the threshold to $125,000 in order to bring more students into the program.

Makes the TAP Awards Bigger – We propose raising the maximum award to $6,470 – from $5,165. In addition, all TAP recipients would receive at least a $500 increase.

Assists Graduate Students – Graduate students lost TAP eligibility in 2010, and bringing it back would give even more New Yorkers the much-needed break they deserve. The average graduate school borrower takes on more than $57,000 in combined debt from graduate and undergraduate education.

Gives Student Loan Payers a Tax Break – New York gives outlandish tax breaks to Hollywood studios and luxury yacht owners, but not college graduates swimming in debt. Single filers could receive up to $4,000, head of household filers could receive up to $6,000 and married filers could receive up to $8,000 in taxable income reductions on the principal and interest of their loans.

The governor’s headline-grabbing “free” college plan was a narrowly tailored initiative that ignores room and board, textbooks and existing debt. It barely scratches the surface of a growing problem. We must enact programs that treat all students and institutions equitably and provide relief at each layer of higher education.

What do you think? I want to hear from you. Send me your feedback, suggestions and ideas regarding this or any other issue facing New York State. You can always contact my district office at (315) 781-2030, email me at kolbb@nyassembly.gov, find me by searching for Assemblyman Brian Kolb on Facebook, and follow me on Twitter.

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