Over the next few weeks, thousands of New York State high school seniors will receive college decisions letters in the mail. These letters, which are known to be “thick” if it is an acceptance and “thin” if it’s a rejection, may not matter if our students can’t afford to pay or go.

Last week, the New York State executive budget for 2010-’11 included more that $71 million in cuts to the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

TAP provides grants up to $5,000 to eligible New York State students to help pay tuition at approved New York State colleges and universities. These are grants that do not have to be paid back.

These grants have been instrumental in getting our young people educated. Currently, there are more than 315,000 students in the state who depend on state aid to meet their college costs, and over 4 million students have received aid over the last 35 years. Tens of thousands of African-American and Hispanic high-need college students, in particular, are the beneficiaries of these funds.

And without these grants, there will be thousands of New Yorkers who will not be able to afford to go to college and continue to live in a cycle of poverty because they have no access to higher education.

In New York City, about 100,000 students depend on TAP at City University of New York schools alone. When in you add in state schools, that number rises dramatically. In those cases, a TAP grant may pay for a student’s entire education, while at private institutions, it goes a long way in supplementing other grants in aid.

If the state decimates the TAP program with these cuts, we might as well forget about trying to convince our children that college is the way to succeed, because they will not be able to pay for it.

In today’s world, college is a necessity and for too many, it seems economically out of reach. If these cuts go through, a college education will be that much farther from the realm of possibility for many young people. We cannot afford to let our children fall by the wayside. We must educate them beyond the high school level and prepare them for the global marketplace.

TAP is the original economic recovery plan in New York. It has worked for 35 years to lift families out of poverty. In the midst of these hard economic times, it is not the time to cut back. If anything, it is a time when these kinds of grants must be increased. It was during the Great Depression that many of our great universities were built and expanded.

Shouldn’t we use these trying times to continue to build and grow our next generation?