Making higher education more available and affordable is a top priority for the New York Public Interest Research Group this year, and SUNY Buffalo State is one of the centers of action.
“The overall goal is to ensure students who would like an education can receive one, and that finances are not a barrier to that,” said Patty Ceravole, project coordinator for NYPIRG at Buffalo State and college alumnus.
Among NYPIRG’s goals is reforming the Tuition Assistance Program and passing the New York State Dream Act.
Ceravole said that TAP reform is something NYPIRG has been working on for years, but that they have developed a new platform this semester.
The new platform includes plans to raise TAP awards to match increasing tuition costs, raise the number of semesters a student is eligible for TAP – currently eight – and allow undocumented and graduate students to apply for the program.
NYPIRG also wants to instate a system that would update TAP on a regular basis.
The changes to TAP would benefit students like Leondra Harvey, a senior majoring in public communication and fashion design. After Harvey finished her eighth semester of school, she lost her TAP eligibility. She had to take out student loans to cover tuition costs.
“Most people I know don’t graduate on time,” Harvey said. “I think [TAP reform] is a great idea. It would help to alleviate the stress of trying to pay for school while taking classes.”
A major step in pushing the TAP reform forward is NYPIRG’s annual Higher Education Action Day protest in Albany, set while the legislature is in session.
During the protest, Ceravole said, students meet with state representatives to discuss how issues related to higher education have affected them personally.
Alex Bornemisza, a Buffalo State student currently in Albany for an internship and a member of NYPIRG’s board of directors, has been to the event twice. This year, he is part of the organizing team.
“Every single student has a stake in their education, as well as the education of future students,” Bornemisza said. “Everyone should be taking part in the fight for the quality education we deserve.”
Bornemisza said that this year there is a big push to pass the Dream Act, which would grant undocumented students access to TAP.
The trip is funded by NYPIRG and transportation is free for students. Students are also given a complimentary breakfast and lunch. This year, the protest will be held Feb. 26.
Ceravole is hopeful about this year’s protest.
“We need to make sure that every student at Buffalo State, and statewide, has a voice,” she said.
Autumn Evans can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]