Earlier this month, Assemblyman Francisco P. Moya (D-Jackson Heights) and State Senator Jose Peralta (D- Dist. 13) proposed to increase New York State financial aid to immigrant students, furthering the push for affordable education to a currently disenfranchised population.
New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), is a tax-funded program given to eligible residents to help pay for college expenses such as tuition or housing. But the program has always been off limits for international students or immigrants who don’t have residency status.
“Since its inception in 1974, TAP has helped 4 million New Yorkers go to college,” said Moya and Peralta in an editorial piece published in the NY Daily News. “But without an increase in grant maximums in more than a decade, the program has failed to keep pace with the rising costs of higher education.”
Currently, TAP limits range from $5,000 to $5,100 each year, but the increase in college tuition has outpaced TAP amounts significantly. CUNY and SUNY colleges on average cost just over $6,000 per year for undergraduate programs, requiring the rest of the money to be paid for out of pocket or with loans or other grants, if students can get them.
“What we propose is to bring TAP into balance with current economic realities and ensure that the program in the future provides help to all who need it,” Peralta and Moya wrote in the editorial.
Financial problems are especially challenging for immigrant students, or “DREAM-ers,” the term given to immigrant children and teenagers who were brought over illegally when they were young. Despite having lived in the state their whole lives, they qualify as international students, and have to pay for college without financial aid.
It’s unclear precisely how many students at York College are DREAMers, but on its website the college claims to have more than 200 international students from 50 countries. Many of these students apply for state residency after a year to gain access to TAP funds.
Occupational Therapy major, Renis Vongli, 22, is an international student who just applied this year for TAP.
“It would’ve been so helpful to help pay for my first year,” said Vongli. “I’m happy to see it expanded and applied to everyone.”
“I haven’t ever gotten TAP,” said Accounting major Neal Proshad, 24. “On one hand, I’m supportive of it, knowing that my tax money is helping out other students. On the other hand, I get upset to see people who are eligible use it for something else.”
Proshad argues that being a DREAMer, he has had to pay for college completely out of pocket, has never been eligible for federal or state financial aid, and gets frustrated with students who take advantage of the system.
“I don’t think it should be for students who already get financial aid,” said Nursing major Melissa Lilloo, 20. “Or at least it should be limited.”
Lilloo has also never been eligible for TAP because of her immigration status, and agreed with Pershad on students taking advantage of TAP benefits.
“You just see them with stuff they don’t need,” she said. “It’s annoying.”
CUNY has offered non-resident immigrant students help in applying for green cards through the University website, and is also currently lobbying the state to pass the New York DREAM Act in the state legislature with Moya and Peralta.