Making College Affordable

December 21, 2017

During this time of year, some families with graduating seniors are planning to enter college in the next academic year. Finances are obviously a big consideration when it comes to higher education and with good reason. Costs have risen dramatically. The average cost of attending a 4-year public college in 1980 was $7,770 (in today's dollars). Today these average costs have increased to more than $20,000 a year. The growth in college tuition and fees have outpaced the growth of housing prices, consumer prices and the average hourly wage.

As a result, student debt has increased. During a 10-year period—from 2004 to 2014—the average student debt rose 56% from $18,550 to $28,950. Americans owe more than $1.45 trillion in student loans--second only to mortgages as the largest source of household debt. Despite the cost, demand for higher education remains high. About 41% of students attended college in New York in 2013--higher than the national average which was 37%.

Given these high costs, New York could help families to better afford college. For starters, we can incentivize savings to complement the existing and already successful 529 plan. A 529 plan is a tax-deductible savings account that New York residents can open. Savings that accrued in the account can be used for qualifying higher education expenses such as tuition, books, fees, supplies, and equipment. The money that is deposited in the account is tax deductible and earnings are tax free. Residents can contribute up to $5,000 a year or couples filing jointly may contribute up to $10,000. In effort to encourage more New Yorkers to take advantage of the 529 plan, I sponsor legislation that would require New York to provide a 10% match of savings accrued in the 529 accounts. The match would be granted when the student attends a college in New York for up to 8 semesters.

New York could also take some of the cost burden away for families by making college supplies tax deductible. It is estimated that the average student spends around $1,200 a year on books and supplies. A single textbook can cost as much as $200. Having this state tax deduction available would help offset some of the considerable costs needed to complete the coursework. Parents of students who claim their children as dependents would also be able to take advantage of this tax deduction.

Lastly, the state can do more to incentivize private businesses to make investments in their workforce. Some businesses, particularly advanced manufacturers, report that jobs are going unfilled because workers lack the skills or degrees that are needed to complete the work. To help address this and help workers who may need advanced-degree training to transition to these positions, New York could provide a tax credit for business owners who pay college tuition for an employee in exchange for that employee’s commitment to work. For example, degrees in computer aided drafting (CAD) qualify students to work in architecture, engineering, graphic design, marketing and geography industries. If New York made this tax credit available, businesses within these industries would be incentivized to pay for advanced degrees for an individual in exchange for a committed and skilled employee. It would also, obviously, help the student save on tuition.

Students deserve the opportunity to attend college. I look forward to continuing to advocate for the policies set forth above and to work to come up with additional creative solutions to make college affordable. If you have any questions or comments on this or any other state issue, or if you would like to be added to my mailing list or receive my newsletter, please contact my office. My office can be reached by mail at 200 North Second Street, Fulton, New York 13069, by e-mail at barclaw@nyassembly.gov or by calling (315) 598-5185. You may also find me, Assemblyman Barclay, on Facebook.