State budget assists Hudson Valley and students

A poll taken by “New York Now,” a weekly news program on PBS, found that 98 percent of viewers were not happy with the budget passed by New York State in the early hours of April 1. The budget session started with the indictment of longtime assembly speaker Sheldon Silver and ended with compromises on a series of proposed reforms by Governor Cuomo that left many with a bad taste in their mouth.

However, the budget contained a number of measures that are positive for Hudson Valley and students in New York State.

Declining enrollment in recent years has caused financial strain for Hudson Valley and other community colleges across the state, which have advocated for funding levels that match what the state is required to provide by law. This year’s budget increased state funding to community colleges by $100 per full-time equivalent student, which will amount to over $800,000 for Hudson Valley based on enrollment trends.

This is the third consecutive year of increased funding from the state for community colleges, but they are still short of the funding required by law.

“We’re trying to get our message across that it is an important investment in the state of New York to support our community colleges,” said Hudson Valley President Drew Matonak.

While college leaders like Matonak hope to see a continued increase in funding from the state, he believed that this year was a win. “$100 this year was about as good as we could expect it to be, the way this legislative session played out. It would not have happened if it wasn’t for the tremendous support we got from our legislators,” he said.

New York State Senator Neil Breslin, whose district includes Hudson Valley, was a supporter of increased funding for community colleges. “The aid that we give to junior colleges is critical to the success of New York. It pays for itself,” said Breslin.

Hudson Valley also had a supporter in the lower house. “We know that for our community colleges, the state has not kept its end of the bargain, so we were very unified in the assembly majority,” said Assemblymember John McDonald, whose district includes Hudson Valley.

In addition to increased state funding, Hudson Valley has also been seeking increases from Rensselaer County in recent years. The state formula for community college funding dictates that the state, local counties, and tuition each contribute one third of revenue to the colleges. Last year, Rensselaer County entered an agreement with Hudson Valley to increase its sponsorship contribution from $3.3 million in 2013-14 to $5.1 million per year by 2018.

Rensselaer County Executive Kathy Jimino advocated for increased community college funding from the state during this legislative session to relieve financial pressure on the county. “It does help the county, and it also helps the students,” said Jimino.

Breslin noted that more state funding can help curb tuition increases for students, and that the budget also included an increase in funding for the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

“It is absolutely essential that every kid who wants to go to college has the avenue to do it,” said Breslin.

The state budget also included a program to relieve students of loan debt after graduating. The Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program will provide state funds to pay for the first two years of loan payments for students who go to college in New York State, remain in the state after graduating, and earn less than $50,000 per year.

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