Students urge legislators to help in fight for higher ed. funding

Photo by Lyndsey Cooper
The SUNY New Paltz NYPIRG chapter met with Kevin Cahill on Higher Education Advocacy Day.

College students, professors and other education advocacy groups are speaking out against education opportunity program budget cuts proposed in the Executive Budget.

Groups such as the New York Public Interest Group and their allies want more funding for Educational Opportunity Programs, Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge and CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs.

According to a testimony by NYPIRG at the Joint Legislative Budget Hearing on Higher Education on Jan. 23, these programs could see up to $5 million in budget cuts. Advocates argue that the demonstrated success of these programs should be enough evidence to promote more state investment. These programs are specifically geared towards the educationally and economically disadvantaged, which, according to NYPIRG, lead to higher graduation rates for individuals from low-income communities.

More than 350 college students from across New York state gathered in Albany to advocate for affordable higher education by sharing their opinions and stories of financial struggle with legislators to speak against these proposed budget cuts.

Higher Education Advocacy Day fell on Feb. 28 this year, bringing together students affiliated with New York Public Interest Group and the Educational Opportunity Program, The State University of New York Student Assembly, The CUNY University Student Senate, PSC Student Leadership Development Program, as well as members of the United University Professions and New York State United Teachers.

Before splitting off with their respective groups to meet with legislators, students gathered in The Egg to go over key talking points concerning higher education issues.

When NYPIRG Student Board of Directors Vice Chair Anthony Viola asked the crowd of students how many times they had to “skip a meal to afford textbooks for that semester,” more than half of those students raised their hands.

“We are here today to speak about our experiences, and advocate on behalf of the hundreds of thousands of students across the state for fully funded public college,” Viola said.

Viola said that since tuition has gone up more than 35 percent since 2011, New Yorkers trying to reach academic goals are being left behind as Viola and others consider having a college degree an “economic necessity” in New York state.

According to Viola, students who rely on programs such as EOP, ASAP and child care services will be severely disadvantaged due to the proposed cuts in funding to these programs by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

“These programs help low-income and students of color succeed, and they are on the governor’s chopping block,” Viola said.

NYPIRG Executive Director Blair Horner reminded students that the three points of interest to consider when speaking with legislators include the need to ensure more state funding, the need for an expansion of financial aid programs and the need to address various infrastructure issues on certain campuses.

“These expenses should not be coming out of the student’s pockets, but the state’s general revenues,” Horner said.

Horner specifically referenced the importance of expanding the Tuition Assistance Program to undocumented students, incarcerated individuals, part-time students and graduate students. Horner also emphasized that maintaining New York DREAM Act is a priority.

“It is important that these legislators hear from you, about the importance of financial aid which help those economically disadvantaged go to school,” Horner said.

After being dismissed from The Egg, students marched towards the Legislative Office Building chanting calls to action for their cause.

NYPIRG Project Coordinator Eric Wood commented on the success of the students-legislator meetings, noting that the office of Assemblyman Kevin Cahill, D-Kingston, “seemed particularly interested in our student testimonies regarding the lack of mental health funding in the SUNY/CUNY system.”

“They said they would be happy to begin making this a larger conversation in the Assembly and the Senate, and see what they could do to expand funding in this year’s budget,” Wood said.