NYS Senate Passes Higher Education Plan

 

My colleagues and I in the Senate recently passed a comprehensive higher education package that would make obtaining a college education more affordable for New York’s students and help families with soaring tuition expenses.

The bill includes expanding the eligibility for the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), enhancing the tuition tax credit for families, establishing a student loan debt relief program, providing assistance to help our veterans afford college tuition and creating a math, science and engineering technology retention initiative for New York’s students.

The maximum TAP award has remained unchanged since 2000. Although SUNY's tuition rate of $4,350 is still below the maximum TAP award of $5,000, it has risen by 28 percent since 2000, while tuition rates at independent colleges and universities have increased by 33 percent.

Aside from tuition costs, New York families continue to face significant increases in other college-related expenses. For example, since the Fall of 2000, room and board rates at SUNY have increased by 30 percent to $8,285 in 2006. Mandatory fee rates have also risen by 51 percent to $1,010 at SUNY. The Senate's proposed 2007 TAP expansion/enhancement legislation will increase dependent students' household income eligibility cap for TAP from $80,000 to $100,000 net taxable income, and increase non-dependent students' income eligibility for TAP from $10,000 to $12,500 net taxable income (NTI). It will also raise the minimum TAP award under the TAP award schedule for families with dependent students from $500 to $1,000. Expanding TAP will help New York families keep pace with the rising cost of higher education and extend TAP benefits to 21,000 more New York State families.

To help families keep pace with the rising cost of higher education, we also proposed an increase in the amount of deductible tuition expenses for New York families to $14,000 from the current $10,000 level. The tax credit will increase from 4 percent to 5 percent of eligible tuition expenses, or a maximum of $700, instead of the current maximum of $400, benefiting all New Yorkers with college expenses.

Student indebtedness is becoming a national crisis affecting many New York State college graduates. The average college graduate from a public institution now owes $15,000 in student loan debt, or $21,000 if they attended a private university. Many graduates make payments on their student loans for 15 years or more after graduation.

To assist students with college loans, and to give them an incentive to stay in New York State, our proposal would establish the New York State Student Loan Debt Relief Program. This program would allow eligible college graduates, who earn less than $50,000 per year, to take a tax credit of up to 50 percent of their student loan payments (up to a maximum credit of $1,000 per year). The tax credit would be available for five years. To be eligible, tax filers are required to remain an employed resident of New York State during the period they claim the tax credit and must also have received a degree from an approved higher education institution in New York.

While the 2007 Session has ended, the Senate will continue to pursue the goal of making higher education affordable to New Yorkers.