Excelsior Scholarship Program: The Failing of New York’s College System

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On April 11, 2017, Governor Cuomo set forth a program that aims to help financially struggling students in New York. This program is called “The Excelsior Scholarship Program,” and it provides New York student residents with free tuition in all of its state (SUNY) and city colleges (CUNY). This program acts as a last resort type of scholarship that covers the balance of your tuition after your Pell Grant and TAP (NYS Tuition Assistance Program) are considered. To be eligible for this scholarship, there are a few requirements:

An applicant must:

  • be a resident of NYS and have resided in NYS for 12 continuous months before the beginning of the term;
  • be a U.S. citizen or eligible non-citizen;
  • have either graduated from high school in the United States, earned a high school equivalency diploma, or passed a federally approved “Ability to Benefit” test, as defined by the Commissioner of the State Education Department;
  • have a combined federal adjusted gross income of $110,000 or less;
  • be pursuing an undergraduate degree at a SUNY or CUNY college, including community colleges and the statutory colleges at Cornell University and Alfred University;
  • be enrolled in at least 12 credits per term and complete at least 30 credits each year (successively), applicable toward his or her degree program;
  • if attended college before the 2018-19 academic year, have earned at least 30 credits each year (successively), applicable toward his or her degree program before applying for an Excelsior Scholarship;
  • be in a non-default status on a student loan made under any NYS or federal education loan program or on the repayment of any NYS award;
  • be in compliance with the terms of the service condition(s) imposed by an NYS award that you have previously received; and
  • execute a Contract agreeing to reside in NYS for the length of time the award was received, and, if employed during such time, be employed in NYS.

With the state reaching one step closer to achieve the goal of affordable college for all, this news became life-altering for many poor families in New York. However, as this program goes on, many are starting to think that this may be too good to be true.

A study done in August 2017 was released by the Center for an Urban Future, a nonprofit group, showing data on the few numbers of students who actually benefited from this scholarship. Out of 633,543 undergraduates in New York State, The Excelsior Scholarship Program only helped 20,086 students. That means 97% of applicants were rejected from Cuomo’s program. The numbers became grimmer as data focused on CUNY schools. Analysis shows that even fewer students in CUNY community colleges compared to SUNY schools have benefited from it. For example, with 95,951 community college students, only 820 of them received help from The Excelsior Scholarship. That is 0.9 percent of the total number.

With the conflict between the program’s agenda and the grim reality of the number of students being accepted, it has been an uphill battle between the state and students that went on for almost a year.

So why are the numbers of accepted applicants so low?

The Center for an Urban Future revealed that the heavy credit requirements were the main issues for students. Almost twice as many applicants were rejected for “not having sufficient credits”. The state needs to make appropriate reforms to the Excelsior Scholarship Program to be able to support students who need financial help. With these many students not being able to reach the requirements of having 30 credits a year, changes will need to be made in order for it to be aligned with the program’s well-intended goals. If that can’t be done soon, many students and families will be back from where they started.

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