From the Desk of the President: An Open Letter to the Governor Concerning Cost of Higher Education

An Open Letter to the Governor

Saturday, January 7, 2017

Dear Governor Cuomo,

Thank you for your expression of concern for college students, the problems of student debt, and the cost of higher education today. While I am pleased to see college affordability prioritized, the proposal for additional tuition assistance should be extended to all of New York’s college students, regardless of whether they attend a public or private institution.

Many New York students need financial assistance to achieve their dream of a college education at an institution of their choice, not limited to SUNY and CUNY. Please consider instead becoming the advocate of fixing what has worked so well and served so many—Regents Scholarships, TAP, HEOP and Bundy Aid.

I was the son of a blue collar family whose father worked two jobs.  College was a lofty goal for this grandchild of Irish immigrants. As a classic baby boomer, I remember well the days when a Regents Scholarship or TAP had significant value and enabled many New York students to select an institution, public or private, that would best fit the needs and interests of those of us  who were struggling with college affordability.

When HEOP was established in 1969, it was highly praised and celebrated for the way it opened the door of access to both public and private institutions of higher learning. I am honored today to be the president of Siena College, one of the many private institutions in our state that is proud to host a highly competitive HEOP program. Like so many other HEOP host institutions, we struggle to meet the program’s mandated demands and have received diminished financial support from the state.

Many institutions like Siena have remained faithful to the original HEOP vision and continue to serve educationally and financially disadvantaged individuals, in spite of and not because of, the state legislature’s inability to financially support the program.

I am also old enough to remember New York’s famous Bundy Aid program that provided direct financial support to private colleges and universities based on the number of graduating students. That support was invaluable. It also challenged SUNY institutions to remain competitive. A Regents report in the early 1990s recommended the restoration of the financial support that the Legislature reduced in the 1990-91 financial crisis, but that did not happen.

New York has made bold and noble efforts to provide financial support to individuals and institutions over the years. Unfortunately, the state has consistently stumbled in its ability to make the hard choices to support students in financial need. While your proposal to establish yet another assistance program – the Excelsior Scholarships – is most admirable, I ask you to consider revamping and properly funding some of the forms of assistance that have worked and benefitted thousands of students over the past fifty years at both public and private colleges.

Br. F. Edward Coughlin, O.F.M. Ph.D.
President, Siena College