October 24, 2021

Pandemic causing college tuition aid delays

New York is late in sending money to colleges to cover the state’s Tuition Assistance Program, and that, following a 20% cut in state funding, is causing a financial strain on Tompkins Cortland Community College and its students.

For the college, that means it won’t be distributing $475,000 in tuition assistance until Wednesday — four weeks later than normal years — and still less than the $642,000 it expected, said Bill Talbot, the college’s interim vice president for finance and administration.

That’s actually two or three weeks earlier than Talbot expected earlier this week, given the coronavirus pandemic — but not so early that students aren’t feeling the pinch.

“Any time money is taken away from students, it’s going to have impact,” he said.

Talbot estimated that 60% to 70% of the school’s 2,300 full-time students receive some funding from the state Tuition Assistance Program, which helps eligible New York state residents pay for college, including at TC3 and SUNY Cortland.

Because of the coronavirus pandemic and its effect on state revenue, the state has delayed 20% of state aid to schools. TAP and other financial aid programs that help students attend New York colleges.

This, he said, is following the trend of school aid funding being cut by 20% because of pandemic caused tax revenue shortfalls at the state level.

For the school, that meant losing about $500,000 from the $2.5 million in aid it was expected to get pre-COVID.

“We’re hoping this is a temporary inconvenience,” he said.

The TAP payment will already be a couple of weeks late, which has caused a financial strain on students who receive it.

The college, though, isn’t asking students to make up the funding gap, Talbot said. TC3 has been working on ways to help alleviate students’ financial burdens.

For students who are struggling to pay rent, the college will notify their landlords of the situation and work out ways to meet their needs. For students who aren’t able to buy groceries because of the delays, the school is keeping its food pantry stocked and open.

“They just need to come to us and we’ll help them,” he said.

SUNY Cortland, like TC3, has also been affected by the delay, but also will take on the burden of lost funds instead of passing it down to the students, said Mark Yacavone, the assistant vice president for enrollment management.

About 3,700 SUNY Cortland students receive TAP funding.

The program was important to students, he said. “It’s a big part of their ability to attend college.”