New York yeshiva students received almost $9 million in state grants during the first half of 2012, thanks to a recent change in state law that made them eligible for the first time for a state-funded financial aid program.
The students, who were previously barred from receiving funds offered by New York State’s Tuition Assistance Program, also claimed $17.2 million dollars in federal Pell grants during the past academic year.
Because the change to New York’s eligibility rules took effect in January, halfway through the academic year, next year’s TAP bill for yeshiva students is likely to be about $18 million, said Neal Warren, director of research for New York State’s Higher Education Services Corporation. The outlays to yeshiva students constitute virtually all the money going to theological students in New York State.
This makes state money about as great a source of revenue for New York’s yeshivas as the better-known federal Pell grant program for low-income students, from which many also receive funds.
Ultra-Orthodox community leaders and the state politicians who represent them have advocated for years that yeshivas ought to be eligible for TAP, which pays out hundreds of millions of dollars annually to the region’s neediest undergraduate students.
Previously, students “obtain[ing] professional instruction in theology” were prohibited from receiving TAP funds. But following a 10-year legislative battle, state lawmakers changed the statute governing TAP in 2011, allowing theological students to apply.
Avi Shafran, a spokesman for the ultra-Orthodox umbrella organization Agudath Israel of America, said in a November 1 email that by opening up grants to yeshiva students, New York was “simply following the federal model (just as many other states do).”
Several other states, including Illinois and New Jersey, have state tuition aid programs for low-income students, to which yeshiva students may apply. But the change in New York State’s eligibility provisions last year came under criticism at the time, in some measure because it was part of budget legislation that cut state aid to public universities and colleges by 10%. The budget at the same time set aside $18 million to fund aid for the newly eligible yeshiva students.