Private colleges see 'hostility' in Cuomo plan threatening TAP aid

First came the governor's proposal for free tuition at the state's public colleges. Then Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said he intended to cut state grants at private colleges that he felt raised tuition too much. And now his comments as he crisscrosses the state promoting his ideas about higher education have stung private college presidents. "One of the things I don't understand in the whole set of proposals is what seems to be an increasing hostility towards the independent schools. It's mystifying," said John J. Hurley, president of Canisius College in Buffalo. New York State's private colleges and universities are warning about the dire economic consequences for them and the communities where they are located if Cuomo's free tuition and other proposals for higher education become reality. Private college and university leaders were among the earliest detractors of Cuomo's surprise free tuition idea when the governor announced it in January. Cuomo's budget, released a few weeks later, heightened their concern. The governor proposed cutting off millions of dollars in state aid to private schools that he believes charge too much. If adopted, the governor's proposals would siphon students from small private colleges and universities into the State University of New York system and starve independent schools of the money they need to survive, according to several presidents. "What's distressing about this is the underlying suggestion that somehow the colleges are setting out to gouge students, and that's simply not true," said Gary A. Olson, president of Daemen College in Amherst. "I can't imagine the governor instituting a similar kind of threat to any other business in the state." --- Seeking accountability Cuomo's budget proposal aims to "make colleges accountable for exorbitant tuition rates" by offering the Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP, only to colleges that maintain increases in tuition below $500 or the annual increase in the Higher Education Price Index, whichever is greater. Private colleges that don't abide by the tuition limits would lose access to hundreds of millions in financial aid dollars. The governor also proposes cutting off unrestricted financial support, or Bundy Aid, to colleges that exceed the tuition increase threshold. Olson and other private college presidents say the governor's plans would ruin a higher education delivery system in New York that has worked well for decades. Cuomo has said he wants to limit student debt, while raising college graduation rates and growing the number of New York State residents who earn degrees. In January, he proposed a new Excelsior Scholarship that would allow students from families making up to $125,000 to receive free tuition at New York public colleges and universities. Cuomo promoted the free tuition plan in a recent visit to SUNY Buffalo State. He acknowledged objections that his plan did not apply to more than 100 private colleges and universities throughout the state, and then seemed to double down on why he proposed it that way. "Some people will say, well, you're not subsidizing private schools. You're right. We're not subsidizing private schools," Cuomo said. "By the way, we don't subsidize private high schools. We have public high schools. If you want to go to a private high school, you go to a private high school." "We happen to subsidize colleges probably more than any other state, except maybe one," Cuomo said. "But an average tuition now at a private school is $34,000. Average tuition at a SUNY school is about $6,400. We cannot subsidize a $34,000 education. And to the...

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