Commentary & Opinion
3:50 pm
Mon May 19, 2014

Blair Horner: A Top Education Priority

The nation’s success hinges on the skills and knowledge of its people.   Over the past century, the United States had advanced to the world’s leading nation – in terms of technology, finance, and in the broad accessibility to education.  But in order to maintain its advantages in entrepreneurship, technological prowess and civic engagement, the nation must continue to invest in its future generations. 

The next generation of American leaders will be more diverse than ever before.  Much of the nation’s future success will come from immigrants – in the same way as it has since the founding of the nation.

Unfortunately, current federal and state laws prevent young people who are the children of undocumented immigrant parents from receiving financial aid for college. The nation’s leaders know that our future is tied to the success of young people – including those born of immigrant parents.  Yet, gridlock in Washington has stymied action.  Thus, the states need to expand financial aid access so that all who are otherwise capable can better afford going to college.

New York State must act.  An important step would be to ensure that state financial aid opportunities, such as the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), are available to undocumented immigrants who came to the U.S. as children.

Under New York State law, these children can attend public elementary and secondary schools.  Thanks to legislation approved by then-Governor George Pataki, children of undocumented immigrants can attend public colleges and pay the same tuition as other in-state students.

But they are not eligible for in-state college financial assistance.

Investment in college financial aid programs, such as TAP, is good investment for New York. The Office of the New York State Comptroller estimates that a person earning a bachelor’s degree would pay more than $60,000 in additional state taxes.  Thus, ensuring that all New York students – from traditional to undocumented alike – can access financial aid to attend college not only helps those individuals, but the state as well.

And that’s why the idea enjoys widespread support in New York: the State University and City University Boards of Trustees and Chancellors; the New York State Board of Regents; college professors’ organizations; college students’ organizations; and more than 60 diverse groups representing a wide range of constituents across the state.

Unfortunately, last month the legislation fell by the wayside during the debate over the state budget.  But lawmakers return to Albany soon and will continue to take up important legislation.  They must reexamine this proposal.

New York State has always been a global beacon for hope and opportunity.  In turn, New York’s waves of immigrants have contributed greatly to the state’s vitality and success.  It is time for New York to join other states by further extending a helping hand to immigrant children who arrived in New York through circumstances beyond their control, yet who share the same hopes, aspirations and potential of their counterparts.

A proposal to expand the state’s financial aid programs to students of undocumented immigrant parents was part of the state Assembly’s budget, was supported by Governor Cuomo, but was defeated in the state Senate.

As lawmakers begin their dash to the end of session in about a month, it is important that expanding the state’s availability to college financial aid must be approved.

New Yorkers should urge Governor Cuomo and state lawmakers to ensure that college financial aid is available to all, including those whose parents are undocumented.

Blair Horner is the Legislative Director of the New York Public Interest Research Group.

The views expressed by commentators are solely those of the authors. They do not necessarily reflect the views of this station or its management

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