Gov. Kathy Hochul announced Thursday that part-time students will now be eligible for tuition assistance at state and city colleges, a $150 million expansion in aid that she said will provide people "the key to unlock the possibility of a better future by getting a college degree."
The governor's announcement, made during a morning appearance at the Borough of Manhattan Community College, essentially lifts the requirement that students must carry a full course load of at least 12 credits per semester to qualify for the state Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP.
The program will serve part-time students taking as few as six credits per semester, she said.
Hochul said it was wrong for the TAP program, started in 1974, to exclude part-time students from accessing the financial aid. The new policy, effective immediately, could help 75,000 students, many of whom are people of color, women and those who work or care for family members, she said. Students at nonprofit colleges also would be eligible.
"Now we're righting the wrong," Hochul said. "Today, there's plentiful jobs, great jobs, jobs that'll lead to careers, but we don't have the people to step into them. ... You create the jobs. I'll create the pipeline."
TAP awards for full-time students can be up to $5,665 annually; part-time awards will be prorated to students taking six to 11 credits, officials said.
The additional cost is included in the state's $31.5 billion education budget, the highest level of state investment ever for education, which includes $8.2 billion for higher education, she said.
Hochul, who was born and raised in the Buffalo area, drew a parallel between the new policy and her own family's life. Her parents started off poor and lived for a time in a trailer park, but her father went on to receive a college degree, she said.
"That transformed our personal life story. And a generation later their daughter is governor of New York," she said.
Amy Santana, 34, of Mount Vernon, also spoke during the ceremony, accompanied by her 5-year-old son Noah. She said her dream has always been to become a nurse, and the new policy will give her the financial help she needs to reach that goal.
Before, that dream was an impossibility, she said. Her father had died when she was a teen, and she recently has had to care for her mother and son. Nonetheless, she rose from a part-time bank teller to a sales and service manager, she said.
"Now I can make my dream my reality," Santana said. "I want to join the health care heroes on the front line."
Santana said she looks forward to providing her son with swimming lessons, summer camp, and cello lessons, which he has been wanting.
"I will be teaching him it's never too late to pursue your dreams," she said.
Long Island educational leaders praised the move.
Maria Conzatti, interim president of Nassau Community College, noted that a majority of its students are not able to pursue their education full-time due to work and family responsibilities.
"The expansion of TAP eligibility provides an added incentive for them to continue on their path to a degree," Conzatti said.
Timothy E. Sams, president of SUNY Old Westbury, said the new policy will make higher education more accessible for those who can't attend full time.
"With the passage of part-time TAP, we see an important hurdle removed for students who are already balancing other responsibilities and commitments that may have prevented them from pursuing their dreams," Sams said. "This will have a positive impact on students, present and future, across the Long Island region and state."