Assembly Republicans propose increase in college tuition aid

Assembly Republicans this week laid out their alternative to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “free tuition” proposal, suggesting the state expand both eligibility and dollar amounts for New York’s existing tuition grant program and let taxpayers deduct part of their student-loan payments from their income taxes.

Dubbed “the Affordable College for All Initiative,” the concept – it has not yet been put into bill form – would raise to $125,000 the current $80,000 income limit to qualify for the state’s longstanding Tuition Assistance Program, better known as TAP. It also would lift the maximum annual TAP award to $6,470 from $5,165, raise every TAP grant by $500 and restore eligibility for graduate students (they got booted from TAP in 2010).

Republicans calculate their proposal would cost $146 million this year, just a little below the $163 million Cuomo has said his proposal initially would cost. One of their selling points is that students can spend TAP grants at both public and private institutions, whereas Cuomo has proposed free tuition only at public colleges and universities.

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, a Deerpark Republican, praised his conference’s plan and panned Cuomo’s in a video recorded after he and his colleagues announced their alternative.

“It’s much, much better than the socialist proposal that Governor Cuomo put out to us a couple months ago, with what he says tuition-free college assistance, which isn’t the case,” Brabenec said in the recording. “Whenever you hear ‘free college,’ that usually means ‘tax increase.’”

Yet there are great similarities in the two ideas. Cuomo’s proposal would incorporate the TAP funding already available to students (and federal Pell grants as well) and simply cover the tuition difference, much like the increase in TAP grants that Republicans suggested (their proposed $6,470 maximum is the current in-state tuition amount at New York’s four-year public colleges). And his proposal also would phase in a $125,000 income limit over three years. (Under his plan, the cutoff would be $100,000 this fall, $110,000 in 2018, and $125,000 thereafter).

Republicans say the state hasn’t raised the income threshold for TAP in 17 years.

They argue that Cuomo’s idea of waiving tuition at public colleges for qualifying students could siphon students from private colleges and hurt their enrollment. Cuomo recently countered that New York already lavishes taxpayer money on its private universities through TAP grants, with about 79,000 students at those institutions claiming an average of $3,200 a year, according to a Politifact fact check of his claim this week.

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