By Abby Lorch | October 9, 2023
Exterior of the SUNY System Administration Building on Broadway in downtown Albany.
Photo Credit: SUNY Website
Some students saw unexpected cuts to their financial aid in early September due to an error in the calculation of the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) awards. The State University of New York (SUNY) has promised to make up for the losses.
TAP is a government program that provides need-based financial aid to New York residents attending colleges in the state. Students receive TAP awards on an annual basis and do not need to pay them back. The Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC), the state agency that manages TAP, has been overpaying some aid recipients for the past three years.
HESC recently discovered the error and acted quickly to correct it, as reported by the Times Union. HESC reduced more than 3,500 awards for the current academic year and ordered colleges to pay back the extra funds from the 2021-2022 and 2022-2023 academic years.
In response, SUNY Chancellor John King and New York Governor Kathy Hochul developed a plan to compensate students and colleges for their financial losses. King then sent letters to SUNY presidents and impacted students informing them of the plan. SUNY Press Secretary Holly Liapis shared these letters with the Albany Student Press.
“New York State and SUNY’s priority is to ensure that our students are given the highest and best chance to succeed, and their success should never be curtailed due to a technical error,” King wrote to campus presidents.
Each impacted SUNY student will receive a scholarship from their campus covering the difference between this year’s reduced TAP award and the full amount they’ve come to expect. SUNY institutions have been instructed to keep track of scholarship expenses and report them to SUNY System Administration, which will ensure that the campuses are fully reimbursed. Former students will receive retroactive scholarships and will not be held liable for the overpayments.
“We will do everything in our power to support your success at SUNY,” King wrote to students.
Under this plan, the error should have minimal impact on the University at Albany.
“At UAlbany, there were fewer than 80 financial aid awards impacted by these errors, and those awards involved about 40 total students,” UAlbany Director of Communications and Spokesperson Jordan Carleo-Evangelist said. “Students are being held harmless by the campus and SUNY, so they will not be financially impacted this year. … [UAlbany] will be made whole by the state for any award gaps that we have to cover.”
Still, some UAlbany students voiced frustration with the way the situation was handled.
“Financial aid is annoying and I hate how the state handles money. There should be a way easier way to do this whole thing,” Jaime Dickinson said, a senior from Springville whose TAP award was reduced this year. “Also, how does the HESC just make a mistake like that? How do they screw up that badly and just expect us to fix it for them? Not cool.”
HESC did not respond to requests for comment on the error. However, the Times Union reported that the miscalculation produced a total of $5.1 million in TAP overpayments. The error affected 3,274 independent students (a category that includes those older than 23 years old, military service members, and foster/emancipated children) without dependents. These students were mistakenly grouped with students who do have dependents, causing them to be awarded more TAP funds than they were really eligible to receive.
In ordinary circumstances, independent undergraduates with no tax dependents who qualify for TAP receive a maximum award of $3,025 each year. Because of the error, these students have been paid up to $5,665 annually—the maximum amount available to students with dependents—for the past three years.
Eligibility requirements are also different for students with dependents than for students without them. While independent students with no dependents must earn $10,000 a year or less (or up to $40,000 if they are married) to qualify for TAP, students with dependents can make up to $80,000 a year and still qualify. It’s possible that some students who otherwise wouldn’t qualify for TAP received aid due to the error.
When HESC discovered the issue and recalculated the TAP awards, affected students saw sizable reductions in their aid. By the time UAlbany students were notified, it was already too late to drop out without some financial liability. Impacted students won’t need to worry about these lost funds, though, thanks to the intervention of SUNY and the governor.
Katy Zielinski, a spokesperson for Gov. Hochul, said the governor is committed to supporting students.
“Governor Hochul is fully committed to ensuring that students have access to affordable and high quality public education in New York and she’s directed SUNY and CUNY to hold all impacted students harmless from any incorrect processing of TAP scholarships,” Zielinski said in a statement to the ASP. “HESC made an error and we're determining how to prevent similar incidents from happening again.”
UAlbany students seeking help with their bills or answers to financial aid questions can call Student Financial Services at (518) 442-3202 or visit their office at Campus Center G26.