As financial burdens mount at public universities and colleges across New York state, the State Assembly budget aims to increase education funding this fiscal year.

On March 15, Speaker of the New York State Assembly Carl Heastie and Higher Education Committee Chair Deborah Glick announced that $18.6 billion will be set aside for higher education as part of the Assembly’s State Fiscal Year 2021-2022 Budget. Starting on April 1, new investments include a $1,000 increase in maximum Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) awards to $6,165 and a $100 million and $66 million increase in maintenance funding for SUNY and CUNY schools, respectively. The budget aims to incentivize renewable energy, as CUNY schools will also receive $15 million for solar and wind energy training programs for students.

The budget also includes $180 million for college opportunity programs, an increase of 20 percent from last year. Popular programs, like Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) and Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge (SEEK), will see a $7.1 million and a $5.6 million increase in funding respectively under the new budget.

This announcement comes one month after New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo previously proposed a budget, which aimed to give only $11.1 billion in higher education. While the COVID-19 pandemic caused the New York state revenue to shrink, Heastie said he believes education and college affordability is more essential now than ever before.

“Education is a critical rung on the ladder of success — and the Assembly Majority is committed to making sure it is within reach for every New Yorker,” Heastie said in a press release. “Especially as families across the state are struggling as a result of the pandemic, we will keep fighting to fund SUNY, CUNY and opportunity programs that make college accessible to all New Yorkers.”

Along with families, the costs of the pandemic have burdened many SUNY schools, including Binghamton University. According to Ryan Yarosh, senior director of media and public relations, BU has incurred costs of over $71 million due to the pandemic, which include COVID-19 tests, isolation and quarantine housing as well as personal protective equipment (PPE). While the recent announcement of the American Rescue Plan Act plans to help the University with these expenses, Yarosh said the University is working with lawmakers to ensure the budget will provide sufficient help from the costs of the pandemic.

“We’ve been working with our partners at SUNY as well as advocating through our local elected legislators for fiscal relief because of the pandemic and additional support as a result of the federal stimulus program,” Yarosh wrote in an email. “We are closely watching the developments in Albany, and we eagerly await the results of these state budget talks.”

The struggles of both families and higher education institutions inflicted by the pandemic are being prioritized by the New York State Assembly Committee of Higher Education, according to Glick. While the previous proposed budget aimed to increase tuition costs for students, Glick said she believes the new budget ensures families that financial woes would not keep students from getting an education, and increasing tuition would be adverse to that goal.

“This last year has put an incredible financial strain on many families in New York, and it is more important than ever that we ensure the cost of higher education does not keep our students from going to college,” Glick said. “The [New York State] Assembly Majority will continue to ensure that education, the great equalizer, is accessible for all New Yorkers.”

This increase in funding for state campuses has been met with approval from students, including David Goldhirsch, a sophomore majoring in electrical engineering. Goldhirsch noted funding, especially for CUNY schools, is underwhelming and especially due to the pandemic, sometimes fails to provide the “world-class” education the schools promise students.

“Personally, I believe putting more funds into higher education is essential,” Goldhirsch said. “My brother went to a CUNY for college, and he noted that the campus was heavily underfunded. The elevators were always broken, most of his professors were adjuncts and the classrooms were decrepit.”

Goldhirsch said he continues to value the expansion of scholarship during the financial uncertainty many families are experiencing.

“Besides just expanding the budget of school, I’m glad that some of the funds will go directly to students,” Goldhirsch wrote. “The pandemic really took a toll on people’s savings, so scholarships will be needed for many college students.”