The financial cost of the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States is expected to total in excess of $100 billion over the next two years. This staggering amount takes into account only the immediate cost of cleaning up New York and loss of tax revenue generated by the missing and deceased who worked in the Towers. Many of the victims left behind children who have lost not only a beloved parent, but their means of economic support.
Donations to the Red Cross and other relief agencies, pouring in from across the country, so far total hundreds of millions of dollars, but the final cost is untallied and sure to climb much higher. As part of this overall relief response, public and private universities are offering financial support to the victims' survivors. Rutgers University is offering full scholarships to the children of New Jersey residents killed in the attacks. Columbia University is establishing a scholarship fund for children of the victims. Gov. John Rowland of Connecticut has proposed that children of slain Connecticut citizens be given a free education at state schools.
SUNY and CUNY, at the direction of Gov. George Pataki, are preparing to make similar offers on a larger scale. Under legislation submitted by the governor, any spouse or child of a person killed in the attacks will receive a full scholarship to any New York state public school. If a student chooses to attend a private university in New York, the state will contribute an amount equivalent to SUNY tuition toward offsetting the cost. The offer extends to relatives of those killed in the Pentagon and passengers of United Flight 93, which crashed in Pennsylvania. Those eligible do not have to be citizens of New York or the United States, simply direct relatives of the deceased.
While the events of Sept. 11 wounded America, the survivors of the victims began to suffer their own acute grief that terrible day. As is too frequently the case, the heaviest burden falls on the surviving children. Their lives will never be the same, a fact no amount of money can change. The governor's proposal helps to ameliorate the survivors' long-term financial concerns, allowing them to grieve and attempt to rebuild their lives free of at least one aspect of financial insecurity. Giving the gift of education to thousands of orphaned children, "will provide the only effective antidote to the poison of hatred and violence," as the president of Rutgers correctly observed.
Allowing the funds to be used for private institutions, however, harms the state while performing a charitable act. Scholarships awarded to attend SUNY or CUNY essentially recycle money. The scholarship money is eventually returned to the state, which means the system absorbs only the actual cost of educating the student. Since SUNY has already financed the infrastructure of whichever institution a student might choose, the actual cost is much less than the $12,000.
Providing scholarships for students to attend private schools like Columbia or Long Island University means a total loss for SUNY. Given the difficult financial situation of the state before Sept. 11 - and the ultimate costs of the tragedy that only further increase the state's financial strife - that is money which can ill afford to be lost.