NYPIRG goes to Albany for higher education day

Sara Ali , Staff Writer

NYPIRG members from across the SUNY and CUNY board loaded up on a bus and traveled to Albany this past Thursday to participate in Higher Education Action Day. Roughly 300 students and professors, including 15 students from SUNY Buffalo State attended the event.

Students had the opportunity to meet with elected officials to discuss ways to make higher education more affordable and accessible.

The focus of the discussion was to reform the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) and to stress the importance of the New York State Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act (DREAM). One of the goals is to eventually raise the cap on TAP to $6,500.

NYPIRG Project Coordinator Julia White said that students are affected the most by higher education policies made by legislators.

White expressed her concerns toward a broken NYS education system, adding that TAP needs to be reformed and the DREAM Act needs to be passed. According to White, there has been a $1.7 billion cut to SUNY and CUNY since 2008.

“It is appalling, this is our public education system and we should be supporting students as they go on to become a part of society,” she said.

Alex Bornemisza, one of the three team leaders for the event, said this is a big event for NYPIRG and for students. He also believes that TAP is in need of reform.

“A lot of people who are running the state and creating the budget probably haven’t gone to school in a long time. They’re not quite familiar with the current struggles that come with being a student,” he said.

The outdated TAP system has been an ongoing concern amongst students, parents and professsors. According to NYPIRG’s website, all 375,000 TAP recipients had their awards cut in 2010 and the state budget has “reduced or eliminated TAP awards for graduate students, dependents of retired workers, and students who were struggling with grades or federal student loans.”

Bornemisza had the opportunity to meet with Senator Marc Panepinto and some legislative staff members. He said Panepinto seemed to be on board with the issues, having daughters currently and soon-to-be enrolled in the SUNY system.

According to Bornemisza, being a student who is discussing these issues with legislative staff members takes a bit of knowledge and a strategical approach.

“You need to have a plan and teach them what you’re advocating and why it is important,” he said.

Bornemisza says this is crucial because the staff-persons are the ones who educate the legislators, teaching them exactly what it is they will be voting on.

Although reforming TAP was the big push for the event, Bornemisza mentioned the importance of the DREAM Act.

Currently, undocumented students are not eligible for state financial aid. Bornemisza said every year there are 5,000 undocumented students, and they have to pay thousands of dollars out of pocket, not including the cost for books, food, dorming and other living expenses. He said this makes college even more difficult for them.

Other requests presented at the event were enforcing a tax deduction for graduate students, hiring more full-time staff on campus and more funding for SUNY and CUNY colleges.