The Excelsior Scholarship: Pluses and Minuses

 

By Danielle Joseph and Nathalie Ligonde

Governor Andrew Cuomo unveiled last month the Excelsior Scholarship program, proudly stating, “There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 10.47.42 AMsay, I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because parents can’t afford it. With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.” The program was touted by the Governor as the first of its kind in the nation. Who will benefit? Who won’t?

If you are a New York State (NYS) resident whose family household adjusted gross income (as filed on your federal tax returns) does not exceed $100,000 for the 2017-18 academic years, and you complete 30 credits per year, you will be able to attend SUNY or CUNY college tuition for free.

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The first-in-the-nation plan will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorker’s making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, $110,000 in 2018, and $125,000 in 2019.  Students must be enrolled in college full-time and average 30 credits per year (including Summer and January semesters) to receive the funding. However, the program has built-in flexibility so that any student facing hardship is able to pause and restart the program or take fewer credits one semester than another, This requirement on students will encourage on-time degree completion.

Students are required to maintain a grade point average necessary for the successful completion of their coursework, and students will be required to live and work in-state for the same number of years after graduation as they received the scholarship while in school. Godson Enwere, a junior at SUNY OW said, “I think that’s fair. If you’re going to school in New York for free, the least you can do is put your work and money in it.” NYS, unemployment rates, average “4.2% in the boroughs and upwards of 10% in some surrounding counties,” as posted on the NYS Department of Labor website. This in addition to the high cost of living, staying in New York may not be a viable option.

Residency requirements are the same as requirements for other NYS financial aid programs according to a comprehensive website of SUNY Plattsburgh.

When asked if the acceptance rates will change due to the Excelsior Scholarship Program, SUNY Old Westbury President Calvin O. Butts, III, said, “We don’t know whether or not we will be enrolling more students as result of the program being announced. What we know is that, at this year’s open house, we had the largest number of attendees that we’ve had in a very long time.” He added that the school will know whether the acceptance rate will remain the same or not by the end of July. Dr. Laura Anker, Director of First-Year Experience Program at SUNY Old Westbury, pointed out that the program “does not apply to all in-state New York Students as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) students are not eligible.  I am also concerned, after speaking to several high school guidance counselors, that students who are citizens or have residency, but whose parents are undocumented, may also be ineligible because they cannot provide parental information on the FAFSA form.” Dr. Anker said, “This is discriminatory and creates an even greater sense of hopelessness for the motivated and hardworking student population,”

In the excitement over its release the fact that the scholarship program provides “tuition-free college” not “free college” may be overlooked. Students will still need to secure funds for non-tuition costs. Tuition is often only half the cost of attending college. As listed on the SUNY Old Westbury website, tuition and fees for the 2016-17 academic year for full-time students who commute is $7,682 and about $13,000 for students living on campus. Those totals do not factor in the price of textbooks, supplies, transportation, and other related expenses.

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For recent graduates that missed the opportunity to participate in the Excelsior Scholarship Program and earn $54,000 or below, NYS offers “the nation-leading ‘Get On Your Feet‘ Loan Forgiveness Program. The program allows eligible college graduates living in New York to pay nothing on their student loans for the first two years out of school.” For more information visit hesc.ny.gov.          

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