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Queens students protest possible cuts to tuition

Joe Vella, a 20-year-old student at Queensborough Community College, is facing cuts in the state budget that could imperil his education.

As executive vice president of the student government and a school tutor, he spends 12-hours a day on campus before going home.

Vella can afford to attend class because he receives more than $3,200 a year from the state’s Tuition Assistance Program known as TAP, New York’s main financial aid program.

But with Gov. George Pataki recommending a $155 million cut from TAP, Vella now is fighting for money to pay his tuition as well.

“If these cuts go through, I will lose money,” said Vella at a protest last Thursday of the cuts at his college. Vella said he did not have enough time to find a second job beyond his tutoring.

Vella was one of nearly 20 students who participated in a protest against Pataki’s threatened budget cuts. The students from both Queensborough Community College and Queens College were joined by a representative from the New York Public Interest Research Group, a student-directed reform advocacy group.

Protesting in the Science Building of Queensborough Community College on Valentine’s Day, they carried heart-shaped posters ripped in two, saying that Pataki’s budget broke their hearts.

In his 2002-03 executive budget, Pataki has proposed giving state college students two-thirds of their TAP awards while in college, while saving the final third after graduation. The change in administering the grants is expected to save the state $155 million a year.

Vella stands to lose $1,089 a year until he is repaid the money after graduation.

The governor’s office, however, has defended the program.

“The TAP restructuring provides students with a powerful incentive to graduate,” said Ken Brown, a spokesman for the governor’s budget division. “Any student who graduates will not lose funding.”

Brown added that New York State TAP awards are high compared to most other states.

But the students argued that they could not afford to wait until after graduation to receive the remainder of the grant.

“I don’t need the money after I graduate,” said Catherine Schatzle, a student at Queensborough and a TAP recipient. “I need it right now.”

Schatzle, who stands to lose $825 a year until she is repaid after graduation, explained that she lives with her single mother, and the two struggle to make ends meet.

Jon Hesser, the project coordinator for NYPIRG at Queens College, said many students depend on TAP funds.

“Sometimes I go to a class and ask how many of them receive TAP, and half of them raise their hands,” he said.

Maria Olivera, a 20-year-old Queens College junior, said busy schedules were common for students at the two schools.

“There are a lot of students in class full time, and they’re working,” she said. “It makes no sense to give them money after they graduate.”

Reach reporter Alexander Dworkowitz by e-mail at Timesledger@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 141.

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