New York State has a unique and robust higher education ecosystem made up of the Independent Sector, the State University (SUNY), and the City University (CUNY) systems. Together, the public and independent sectors of higher education in New York educate nearly 1.2 million students. Higher Education has a more than 250-year history in New York; key milestones throughout that history are detailed below.

  • 1754

    New York State's first college, King's College, is founded. King’s College was renamed Columbia University in 1784.

  • 1784

    New York’s early Constitution creates The University of the State of New York as an integrated, comprehensive system of higher education that encompassed all the private colleges in the state at that time. There were not yet any public colleges in the state.

  • 1847

    City College of New York is founded in Manhattan. It is the first free public college in the country and went on to become the flagship institution in the CUNY system.

  • 1849

    Charles L. Reason becomes the first Black professor in the United States when he is hired to teach at New York Central College.

  • 1862

    Cornell University is designed as New York’s Land Grant institution under the Morrill Act, which appropriated indigenous lands. LINK:

  • 1887

    The Hatch Act distributed federal funds to land grant universities to create field experimentation stations, which later became the foundation for regional cooperative extension services. Today there are Cornell Cooperative Extension locations in every New York State county.

  • 1890

    The Second Morrill Act is passed, requiring land grant universities to demonstrate that admissions are not limited by race.

  • 1900

    The presidents of 14 institutions of higher education found the Association of American Universities, including Columbia and Cornell.

  • 1904

    The Board of Regents is tasked with the mission to supervise all educational institutions, including colleges and universities.

  • 1948

    The State University of New York (SUNY) established by Governor Thomas E. Dewey. The recommendation to establish SUNY came from the Temporary Commission on the Need for a State University. The Commission also recommended that the state expand the City College of New York to establish CUNY and increase scholarships to broaden access to independent sector colleges.

  • 1956

    Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities founded.

  • 1961

    The City University of New York (CUNY) established by Governor Nelson Rockefeller.

  • 1968

    The Select Committee on the Future of Private and Independent Higher Education in New York State (Bundy Commission) recommends direct aid to independent colleges based on the number and level of degrees each confers annually. This funding would ultimately become known as Bundy Aid and would help support generations of students at independent colleges.

  • 1969

    Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP) established. Named in honor of Arthur O. Eve, member of the New York State Assembly (1967–2003) and Deputy Speaker of the Assembly (1979–2003) representing districts in Buffalo, New York. HEOP is designed to provide academic and financial support to New Yorkers who would otherwise be unable to attend a postsecondary educational institution.

  • 1972

    Federal Pell Grants are created. The grants are named for Rhode Island Senator Claiborne Pell and are designed to support lower- and middle-income students.

  • 1974

    The Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) is created. The program offers a $1,500 maximum grant to New York residents who meet income requirements and attend a public or private college in the state. Since its establishment, TAP has helped more than 5 million students afford college.

  • 1986

    Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP) begun.

  • 1987

    Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (C-STEP) begun.

  • 1988

    Liberty Partnerships Programs is established to address the state’s significant high school dropout rate. The founding legislation highlights the importance of students completing high school and advancing into postsecondary education for the state’s workforce.

  • 2000

    TAP maximum award increased to $5,000 and TAP minimum award increased to $500.

  • 2005

    Higher Education Capital Matching Grants Program established granting $150 million in state capital support for independent colleges and universities.

  • 2006

    Part-Time Tuition Assistance Program first offered to students at independent colleges.

  • 2007

    State Aid Awards for High Needs Nursing Programs at Independent Colleges and Universities established.

  • 2014

    TAP maximum award increased to $5,165.

  • 2015

    Foster Youth Success Initiative enacted in State Budget.

  • 2017

    The Enhanced Tuition Award Program and Excelsior Scholarship enacted in the State Budget. The programs provide tuition scholarships to students at independent and public colleges in New York. In order to qualify, students must meet income and course load requirements, be New York State residents, and commit to live and work in New York after graduation.

  • 2018

    The Science, Technology, Engineering, Math (STEM) Scholarship was expanded to include students who attend CICU member campuses.

  • 2019

    The DREAM Act was enacted in the State Budget. This legislation provides undocumented students with access to New York’s student aid programs, including TAP.

  • 2021

    TAP maximum award increased to $5,665.

  • 2021

    TAP access restored for incarcerated students after it was revoked in 1994.

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