At the beginning of the year, Gov. Cuomo proposed his Excelsior Scholarship plan, which would allow SUNY and CUNY schools to be tuition-free for students for families who make under $125,000 per year. On Feb. 27, President Gary Olson urged students to fight back against these proposed changes in order to protect their education, Daemen College and other private institutions.
“I am writing to ask for your assistance in addressing a potential threat to Daemen and, in fact, to all private colleges throughout New York,” he wrote.
Students were asked to write letters to their state senators and representatives in order to protect Daemen and similar colleges from the negative side effects that the plan could create.
“Many of you have asked if there is anything you can do to address this threat. There is. The Gov.’s plan cannot be implemented without the support of the legislature. Experts inform us that substantial opposition to the proposal in the form of letters from constituents can help block the proposal. I am asking that you take some time to write a letter to your state legislators,” Olson wrote.
Olson, along with several other presidents from private colleges in the area, feel that the best way to make college more affordable is to increase TAP grant funding.
“The way that the TAP program works is that the money goes with the student, not to an institution and that’s the way many of believe it should be and continue to be. What’s being proposed is not additional money to go to students, its additional money to go to intuitions and that is what we’re against,” Olson said.
Under Cuomo’s plan, TAP grants to private institutions that have high tuition fees would be cut.
As one of the 186 private colleges and universities in NY, Daemen and its students could potentially be affected by these grant cuts. TAP grants allow NY residents in good academic standing and in financial need to receive potentially up to $5,165 to aid their tuition payments.
According to Vice President of Student Affairs Greg Nayor, Cuomo’s view that private institutions have high tuition costs when compared to public sector schools is simply inaccurate.
“I think one of the things that’s a little contradictory to the Gov.’s proposal is that over the last five years, SUNY has raised their tuition a substantial amount. At the end of the day, private education cost and public education cost might be right around the same level.”
This assertion comes from the fact that private institutions, including Daemen, are notorious for the amount of financial aid that they give to their students.
Currently, undergraduate students at Daemen pay $26,940 for tuition and fees for one academic year. Cuomo’s argument is that private institution tuition costs are not affordable, especially for prospective students from the middle class. However, private colleges and universities often offer large financial aid packages to assist covering these costs.
Around 95 percent of Daemen students receive some form of financial aid and the average aid package is $27,704. Room and board prices for Canavan Hall and the campus apartments cost $12,425 and $13,075, respectively (depending on which meal plan option is chosen). With the average student financial aid package, students end up paying around the average tuition amount that SUNY and CUNY have.
According to the Buffalo News, over 900 students at Daemen receive TAP grants, which totals to around $2.2 million.
Olson said that he also feels that the Gov.’s plan is essentially eliminating students’ choices for colleges.
“By putting it just into the one sector, the public sector, it seems like a way to force students to make a choice that they might not have made otherwise. We believe that the Gov. should help make college more affordable and we believe that he should take that same money and put it into TAP so that it helps students across the board,” Olson said.
The main concern that the Excelsior Scholarship program presents is a threat to private colleges and universities throughout that state.
Both Olson and Nayor say they fear that many private institutions could potentially collapse should the program be passed into law. The consequences of such an event would be dire.
According to Olson, the plan in its current state would hurt private institutions along with the surrounding economies. Olson also wrote of this issue in his blog. He states that Daemen alone contributes around $130 million to the economy each year, and losing Daemen would cause job loss and economic disparity.
Nayor agreed with Olson’s statement and said that he doesn’t see how the majority of the 186 private institutions in the state could remain open.
“Long term, we would struggle but I think you would see some other colleges that have been struggling close almost immediately. That would be a shame because the other thing that colleges and universities do in addition to the support of the students and giving them that experience is the economic development of those areas. We as a higher education institution are major driving forces of economic development in WNY and all throughout NY and if you lose that, you’re talking about people’s jobs, salaries and an economic base in the area. That would be disastrous,” he said.
Nayor also brought forth arguments against the program that he feels are not being discussed enough.
“I don’t think the state institutions could handle the overflow of students there. That’s a lot of additional students to handle and they’re already pressed in a lot of ways. So in order to do that, they’re going to have to build, they’re going to have to grow and that’s likely going to cost more,” he said.
Besides small class sizes and a family atmosphere, Nayor feels that students are more protected and have more abilities to get involved.
“We have our campus care team that meets weekly and gets reports from faculty, staff and other students about students who might be of concern. We have multiple different points of reaching out and having direct, one-one-one conversation with people which we can do because we are a smaller institution. That is much harder to do at a larger institution like UB or Buff State. While we might not have all the resources that a large institution has, the ability for someone to get involved and get involved in meaningful ways, is greater here than I think it is a large, public institution where you are just one of many,” Nayor explained.
Another argument presented by Olson is that private institutions provide higher percentages of bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees when compared to public colleges. On average, private institutions have higher rates of graduation. Olson fears that the Excelsior Scholarship program would lead to fewer students actually graduating college.
Overall, both Nayor and Olson are taking the situation seriously, but feel that there has been enough opposition stirred up in order to deter the program from actually being passed.