The New Financial Landscape of Public Education

Posted on May 17, 2011

Russell Allard
Education Unit, Fountain House

With almost every news report featuring cutbacks within one government agency or another, it was inevitable that eventually the public education system would be affected. Unfortunately the changes have begun to limit access to higher education for those people least able to afford college tuition - including the members here at Fountain House.

The first change in the academic landscape comes in the form of rising tuition costs and mounting fees. Since 1992, CUNY students have seen a 107% increase in tuition, and this just represents the base cost for attendance. In addition, the CUNY colleges charge various fees for ID’s, campus fees, lab fees, etc., each of which can run anywhere from $50.00 to $200.00. For first time students, there is a $65.00 application fee, and for transfer students the fee is $70.00. The state government recently determined that CUNY colleges may charge a Tuition Commitment Deposit of $100.00, payable before a student receives his or her financial aid award.
Once accepted, students now find themselves with less financial support than they might have expected in previous years. In New York, free financial aid comes in two forms - either the PELL Grant, which is federal money, or Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), which is New York State aid. In the past, students received $5,550.00 in PELL money, regardless of how much their tuition cost or what the amount of their Expected Family Contribution (EFC) was. This allowed CUNY students a cash surplus that could be used for supplies and living expenses. Today the federal government is reducing PELL grants for colleges that cost less than $5,550.00 in straight tuition, leaving many students scrambling to pay for textbooks and the like.
New York State has always given monetary support to college students on the basis of academic performance as well as academic course load, but since 2008 standards have become more stringent. In 2006, by their fourth semester, college students were expected to have accrued 18 credits and have a 1.3 GPA; now, within that same timeframe, students must now accrue 30 credits and have a 2.0 GPA. This 35% increase in performance expectations puts a strain on students who are returning to school after an absence, as many Fountain House members are.
Often these problems can be solved, but the process is as difficult as applying to college in the first place. Several fees are eligible to be waived if students connect with the appropriate agencies and file applications that include proper supporting documentation. COPE-CUNY is one such agency; in order to help students with fees, they usually require transcripts and proof of financial need. The Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) can be petitioned to exempt Fountain House members from the TAP credit requirements and the eighteen semester limit for PELL eligibility, but only with medical documentation of a psychiatric disability.
As money has become a hot issue nationwide, Fountain House students have become vulnerable. In order to help them achieve their goals and dreams, it is more necessary than ever to use ALL of our resources and contacts. The days of things coming easily are over - every class and every semester require significant work before the first day of school. 

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