Include the TAP Gap as Part of the Public Higher Education Maintenance of Effort
As a constituent and supporter of public higher education in New York State, I write to urge you to eliminate the tuition credit required of the State University of New York (SUNY) and the City University of New York (CUNY), otherwise known as the TAP Gap in this year's enacted budget. Eliminating the tuition credit will provide CUNY and SUNY with some fiscal relief and would address a problem that is only growing each fiscal year with tuition increases.
The difference between resident undergraduate tuition at SUNY and CUNY four-year institutions and a student's TAP award, commonly referred to as the "TAP Gap," is a problem for all of our publicly funded universities. Quite often, the TAP Gap hits the institutions that serve our poorest communities the hardest.
The enactment of the SUNY 2020 legislation in 2001, authorized SUNY and CUNY to annually increase tuition, required the state to provide a basic maintenance of effort for operating expenses and created a tuition credit that SUNY and CUNY would be required to pay. Prior to 2011, when low-income SUNY and CUNY students had their tuition costs fully covered by TAP, the colleges received adequate payments from the state to help cover associated costs such as the hiring of staff and funding for student support services. Since this is no longer the case, CUNY and SUNY are forced to fund tuition shortfalls from their operating budgets.
Currently, the maximum state award under TAP is $5,165; however, the law requires the difference between $5,000 and the full cost of tuition at a four-year SUNY ($7,070) or CUNY ($6,930) school to be paid by the institution. As tuition has increased over the years so has the cost of the tuition credit. The value of the tuition credit for the 2020-21 fiscal year is approximately $151 million (CUNY- $79M/SUNY- $72M). The absence of state funding has steadily eroded the schools' operating budgets. This has resulted in staff shortages, limited course availability, reductions in library hours and unmanageable caseloads for counselors.
The TAP Gap has created a serious educational inequality issue within SUNY and CUNY. The nature of the tuition credit is such that the schools that serve the poorer communities, where students are more likely to receive the maximum TAP award, are forced to bear the heaviest hits to their operating budgets. The system actually creates a disincentive to admit students from lower income families and punishes schools for providing the means for students to lift themselves out of poverty. Without help from the state, these schools will have to continue to cut access to critical programs and services in order to meet their legal obligation to cover tuition for these students.
Getting into college is only half of the picture. Once admitted, students should know that they will be given every opportunity to succeed. Any reduction, as a result of limited funding ultimately impacts the students, the quality of their education and their ability to complete their education as close to on time as possible. Forcing SUNY and CUNY to fund tuition shortfalls for all students receiving TAP grants is unsustainable for the universities and unfair to the students they serve.
I urge you to raise this issue in your conference and ask your leadership to support the inclusion of funding and language in the enacted budget to eliminate the TAP Gap and ensure that the state is paying its fair share of the costs to provide New Yorkers with access to a quality public higher education.
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