SUNY community evaluates New York State budget outline

New York State’s approval of its 2018 fiscal year budget passed on Sunday April 9. Within the budget are several policies that will influence higher education and college students in the future, including the Excelsior Scholarship, which will provide free tuition to public universities for students whose families earn less than $100,000. (Bebeto Matthews/AP Photo)

New York State passed the budget for the 2018 fiscal year on Sunday April 9, and the legislation includes provisions that will impact college students, including the approval of the tuition-free Excelsior Scholarship program and the ride-hailing companies.

With the passage of the scholarship program, students whose families earn less than $100,000 can attend public higher education institutions without paying tuition. This program will be introduced in three parts, with the income cap increasing to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019. 

This program includes multiple stipulations, including requirements that students be enrolled full time, take an average of 30 credits each academic year, graduate on time and earn a minimum grade point average—which will vary depending on the institution students attend. In addition, the scholarship mandates that students remain and work in New York State after graduation for as many years as they receive the scholarship; if students fail to meet this requirement, their scholarship money will become loans that they have to pay off. 

Students, faculty and staff at SUNY campuses had mixed reactions to the passage of this scholarship. Faculty and staff members stressed that they are not sure how this policy will impact Geneseo’s funding, as the details of the scholarship have not been established.

“I think there’s a lot of details that aren’t known at this point, like how it’s going to be implemented and how students are going to apply for the scholarship,” Director of Student Accounts Sandra Argentieri said. “It’s to be implemented in the fall and we’re here in April, so it doesn’t give us a lot of time to make the necessary changes. There’s definitely going to be challenges, but I think ultimately it’s going to be a positive thing for our students, so we’ll make it work.”

Campus members are concerned about the credit load required as part of the scholarship, as the college recommends that students take 12 credits during their first semester at Geneseo, which may cause challenges in completing the mandatory 30 credits each academic year.

“We encourage our students not to take 15 credits as part of the transition in order to figure out the workload and the intensity of the courses,” Vice President of Student and Campus Life Robert Bonfiglio said. “We say we have high graduation rates and one of the reasons has to do with how we help students manage their academic load their first year, and so now that’s going to change.”

Director of the Office of Financial Aid Susan Romano said that she believes that even if first-year students continue to take 12 credits in the fall, they can still take a total of 30 credits during the academic year by taking more credits during the spring or summer, or the possible intercession period that will be added in the winter. 

The college is considering strategies to accommodate for the increased student demand for course offerings as well, according to President Denise Battles.

SUNY Student Assembly President Marc Cohen said in a phone interview that he is concerned about the scholarship’s requirement that recipients remain in New York after graduation, as it would prevent SUNY graduates from advertising the quality of the SUNY brand across the nation and from taking a job that they really want in order to adhere to this requirement. 

Cohen added that he would like to see more advocacy and assisting with the other costs of higher education, including childcare, healthcare, room and board, transportation and the cost of textbooks.

Student Association President senior Michael Baranowski said he hopes that the scholarship will not only attract high school students to public higher education institutions, but nontraditional students as well, “and inspire them to go and get a college education because it’s more affordable now.”

Battles said she is hopeful that the scholarship will reflect well on SUNY as an institution and Geneseo as well.

“I think there’s a great deal of excitement on the pursuit of having tuition-free scholarship that extends to the middle class,” she said. “This is really groundbreaking and unique in the country and so I think that in terms of reputation this scholarship brings positive attention to New York and highlights New York’s commitment to public education.” 

Provisions for Transportation Network Companies such as Uber and Lyft are also included in the budget, and within approximately 90 days TNCs will be available all over the state. Uber and Lyft are ride-sharing companies that allow passengers to hail their cars via applications on their phones for distances short and long.

“Ride sharing is creating thousands of jobs, it’s promoting safety for passengers, it’s making transportation less expensive, it’s helpful for people who may go out and have a few drinks. It’s actually safer from a drunk driving point of view. It makes total sense,” New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo said of TNCs in his State of the State address in January.

The provisions in the budget call for TNCs to be compliant to a uniform set of standards for licensing, to be compliant to rules set up and overseen by the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles and to maintain insurance policies of $1.25 million at the minimum in order to ensure the safety of both the drivers and passengers.

These companies are noted for being more affordable than traditional taxis and because of that, taxi drivers and companies have been protesting this aspect of the budget.

From a consumer standpoint, students have mixed reactions to ridesharing being enabled in upstate New York.  

“I think it’s fantastic; I can tell you a hundred situations where I wish there was someone to pick me up and there wasn’t anyone, so I think this is great,” international relations major senior Patrick Vullo said. 

Conversely, psychology major sophomore Lindsey Kriaris said she is concerned how such a proposal will impact local businesses.

“I have been using Turbo Taxi, which is a local taxi service in Geneseo. It’s a family-owned business and it might affect their business, which is just a little upsetting because I’ve been using them since freshman year,” she said. 

New York State is also allocating funding for mental health telecounseling, renewing funding for the Educational Opportunities Program and child care funding and increasing funding for maintaining buildings around college campuses, according to Cohen. 

Cohen said that although he believes more can be done in improving the state budget, he is encouraged by the message it is sending. 

“I think there’s always more that can be done,” Cohen said. “I’m grateful that we’ve gotten an increase. I’m grateful that programs like Excelsior are being introduced and I think the most important thing to realize is that this is the first time in a very long time that higher education is at the forefront of discussion.”

Assistant news editor Mike Powers contributed to the writing of this article.