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A closer look at New York’s state budget for Fiscal Year 2021

On April 3, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature passed a $177-billion state budget for Fiscal Year 2021. The budget passed in the midst of the COVID-19 public health crisis — a crisis that hit New York particularly hard, as the state with the highest number of confirmed cases in the country.

As millions of young New Yorkers lose work and face economic insecurity during this crisis, Young Invincibles took a closer look to see how New York’s college students are supported in the enacted budget. Though the information below reflects what was passed in the budget on April 3, Gov. Cuomo signaled that additional cuts may be coming throughout the year, specifically naming education as an area that might face substantial reductions throughout the year. Knowing that students faced hurdles to persist through college this semester, New York State leadership must do all that it can to preserve funding to help ensure that students continue on the pathway to college success. Below are a few key takeaways from the fiscal year 2021 budget that will have ongoing impact on college affordability and students’ ability to persist and graduate from college:

College Affordability: Federal and New York financial aid programs no longer adequately cover the cost of tuition, which has risen steadily over the last decade, nearly doubling in-state tuition at New York’s public colleges. Today’s college students are not just burdened with the cost of tuition, but also a high cost of living. Across New York State, students often rely on critical programs like CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associates Program (ASAP) and the state’s Opportunity Programs to help cover those essential non-tuition costs, such as transportation and textbooks, and also provide academic supports such as counseling and tutoring that help ensure that students graduate.

  • Funding for Opportunity Programs maintained: The state budget maintained its funding for the state’s opportunity programs, such as the Percy Ellis Sutton Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge (SEEK) program, the Education Opportunity Program (EOP) at SUNY, and the Higher Education Opportunity Program, which supports students at participating New York private colleges. These programs provide intensive support to students historically underrepresented in higher education. Expanded funding could be used to increase the number of students served by these programs.
  • Restoration of CUNY’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP) funding: The Governor’s proposed FY21 budget cut state funding that supports the ASAP, but the final budget restores state funding for ASAP at $2.5 million. CUNY’s ASAP program provides students with not only free tuition, but also a monthly MetroCard, increased access to academic counseling, and funding for textbooks. Research has consistently shown that enrollment in CUNY ASAP doubles graduation rates. Additional funding for this program is also provided by the New York City Mayor’s Office as well as the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women.
  • New capital investments vis the strategic needs matching program: The FY 2021 executive budget includes $1.9 billion in new appropriations for SUNY and CUNY capital projects, including $400 million towards a capital matching program that will fund construction and renovation of academic buildings at SUNY and CUNY senior colleges. The capital match requires that for every $2 dollars invested by the State, campuses contribute $1 dollar toward project costs.
  • The TAP gap remains: Since 2011, state law has required that students with the greatest financial need — those eligible for the maximum Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) award — must be able to attend SUNY or CUNY tuition-free. The 2011 law required the universities, not the state, to fill in the gap when TAP doesn’t cover the cost of tuition. The state did not use the budget to start closing the TAP Gap, which costs CUNY an estimated $74 million annually, and limits colleges’ ability to provide critical student supports such as counseling and advising services, full-time faculty and staff, and support with non-tuition costs that can make or break a student’s ability to persist.
  • No increase in base aid for community colleges: The state did not increase its support of New York’s community colleges, and kept its operating aid to the state’s public two-year colleges at the same level as last year — meaning each community college receives $2,947 per full-time enrolled student (FTE). The state’s base aid to community colleges helps fund student support services and keep tuition low.
  • No Excelsior Scholarship expansion to higher-income families: In his proposed budget released in January, Gov. Cuomo called for an expansion of the Excelsior Scholarship program to include families earning up to $150,000. The legislature rejected the Excelsior expansion, and eligibility will remain for students from households making up to $125,000. Launched in 2017, the Excelsior Scholarship serves few community colleges across the state, as well as a disproportionately low share of CUNY students. A recent analysis from the Center for an Urban Future found just 1.6 percent of the state’s community college students, and only 1.7 percent of CUNY undergraduates received Excelsior funding in 2018.

Addressing Students’ Basic Needs: Even before this crisis, millions of New York’s students faced food and housing insecurity, and struggled to afford other necessities such as childcare. Below is a summary of basic needs issues, and how they were addressed in this year’s budget:

  • Coursework to count towards Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) work requirements for community college students: The Office of Temporary and Disability Assistance will establish policy to make more community college students eligible for essential SNAP benefits by establishing a state policy that community college students engaged at least half-time in career and technical education courses of study are exempt from the requirement to work 20 hours weekly to qualify for SNAP. We hope to see this program expanded across all community college and senior college students across the state to ensure no college student goes hungry while enrolled.
  • Funding for on-campus child care was restored: The FY21 budget keeps the state’s funding for on-campus child care at the same level as last year, with $1.7 million for childcare funding at CUNY and $2.1 million for SUNY. Today, more than one-in-five college students are parents — yet, nationwide, available campus-based child care slots do not come close to meeting student parents’ needs.
  • No increase for campus food pantries: In 2018, New York State launched the No Student Goes Hungry Initiative, which mandated food pantry access across the state’s public college campuses. This year’s budget did not increase funding for campus food pantries — a critical part of campus infrastructure, especially when more New Yorkers face food insecurity during the COVID-19 crisis.
  • No increase for supporting college students experiencing homelessness: A 2019 survey found 14 percent of CUNY undergraduates experience homelessness in a given year. The FY21 budget does not include additional resources for the thousands of colleges students facing housing insecurity in New York. New York could follow the lead of other states such as California, Nevada, Maine, Louisiana, and Tennessee and establish a homeless student liaison role whose role would be to support colleges improve their financial aid processes, housing, and other key supports for students struggling with homelessness.