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NYPIRG picks Assembly college plan over guv’s

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Included in the Assembly's 2005-06 resolution to the budget is the rejection of Gov. George Pataki's proposed tuition hikes, which includes a $250 per year increase for CUNY, bringing the total cost of tuition to $4,250 a year, according to a NYPIRG study. A portion of funds - $37.4 million -- from Pataki's tuition increases would then be earmarked for increased general operating funding at the City University of New York. The Assembly also took issue with the governor's Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP, because Pataki is calling for the state to withhold half of the $738.5 million allocated to the program in the 2005-06 Executive Budget until a student graduates. Under the Assembly's measure, students' financial aid would be fully restored, but the TAP is not completely funded because part of the money is poured into the governor's Program to Accelerate Completion Time, or PACT, which gives four-year colleges financial incentives for getting students to complete their degrees in four years, according to Darren Hearn, the NYPIRG coordinator.While Assemblyman Mark Weprin (D-Little Neck) acknowledges the importance of getting through college in four years, he said not all students have that ability because they work or have financial difficulties. He suggested that Pataki is not in tune with the concerns of such students. "Sometimes the governor lives in a Midwest town in the 1950s where everyone has two parents at home and everyone lives in a perfect world," said Weprin. Hearn said he thinks if the Assembly's proposals are accepted, college students in Queens will reap the benefits. "Hopefully, students will return to school who couldn't otherwise," he said.Funding for the Search for Education, Elevation, and Knowledge program, also known as SEEK, which gives financial and economic support to four-year CUNY students, has been cut nearly in half -- from $13.8 million in last year's final budget to $7.4 million in the governor's proposed budget for 2005-06 -- and the Assembly would seek to restore these cuts in their proposal. In 2003-04, 7,820 students enrolled in SEEK, according to the state Department of Education. College Discovery, an opportunity program similar to SEEK for students attending CUNY's community colleges, had 2,450 students enroll during 2003-04.SEEK and College Discovery are vital to ensure college students stay in school and enables them to enroll, according to state Sen. Toby Ann Stavisky (D-Whitestone). Along with the programs, Stavisky mentioned the importance of increasing funding of operating costs at CUNY.Hearn is "very optimistic" that the final budget will closely resemble the recommendations from the Assembly, despite the long budget negotiating process that has resulted in a late state budget for 20 consecutive years. Stavisky likened the governor's role in the budget process to the movie "Groundhog Day." "The same scenario reappears every year," she said. More than 350 SUNY and CUNY students lobbied in Albany recently on behalf of the issue, and Hearn is calling for them "to stay encouraged and hold their ground."

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