NY State’s epic new Excelsior Scholarship, AKA “Tuition-Free” education.

Maybe I’m tired, but I haven’t been able to wrap my brain around this great announcement from our Governor.  How will CUNY and SUNY tuition be “free” after TAP and Pell is applied towards the cost of tuition?! Wouldn’t tuition-free imply -0- tuition for those whose household income is no more than $100,000 for 2017?  What am I missing?

Right now, in order to be eligible for TAP, a student must be charged “at least $200 a year in tuition”.  So, if tuition is FREE, students at SUNY and CUNY would not qualify for TAP.  They could qualify for Pell… and the students whose parents make a decent living, and will have a high EFC, would have NY State take care of their tuition, while their less economically advantageous counterparts, would use up their lifetime Pell eligibility?!  Again, please let me know if I am missing something…  How is this fair or good?  Whom does this really help?  How will the state be able to accommodate an influx of so many students?  The deadline for the Fall term admission to CUNY is February 1st, 2017, according to their website.  And don’t get me started on the realistic number of students who will benefit from Excelsior and ETA scholarships.  How many of the students in community colleges graduate on time?!  So while trying to reduce student debt, HESC will become a loan servicer again, in 2019 or sooner, if students start dropping out after receiving these “free” funds, or not completing 15 credits a semester with a 2.0 GPA.

Private colleges in New York have to reduce their tuition by at least $1,000 or up to $3,000 a year for students whose parents do not qualify for Pell and TAP.  That’s just crazy to me…   What about the impact on GE reporting?  Default prevention?

All the students who have been packaged for 2017-2018, will now have to be repackaged, most likely manually, one by one…  Has our governor thought about that? A lot of students at private community colleges are now considering waiting for CUNY or SUNY, and putting their education on hold.  How will that impact NY State?

What are your thoughts?  Disclaimer – everything written here does not represent my institution, and is my opinion only.  I am really confused and looking for guidance and the NY FA community’s opinions.

Thanks for reading.


1 thought on “NY State’s epic new Excelsior Scholarship, AKA “Tuition-Free” education.

  1. In my opinion, this program will be a benefit to many but not to the extent it seems. It looks to be great for the upper middle income group but not for the lower income group who will be surprised when they realize that this program is not benefiting them. The reason is that pell is being considered a tuition-specific aid program by the state for purposes of determining the Excelsior share. I assume it had to be set up this way as a means of selling the idea to the state legislature, keep the impact to the budget as low as possible and provide media attention to the tuition-free issue. The program, if successful in its intentions, is to benefit the state economically (I mention how the state benefits in the last paragraph). It is also meant to score points politically assuming it works and promote the notion to the nation that it is possible to make tuition free for everyone.

    I want to point out one thing that is not being discussed and that is the impact to the federal education credit that so many middle and upper middle income families use. The education credit is based on 40% of adjusted qualified educational expenses – generally tuition and certain fees reduced by pell grants, scholarships, and TAP. So as a result of covering tuition, the federal education credit will be reduced. The net amount of benefit for those getting full Excelsior will be reduced by the amount of the education credit they have now lost. For example, in the past an upper middle income family that had no TAP or pell would get $2500 in education credits. Now with Excelsior and assuming SUNY tuition cost (about $6500) and about $1000 in qualified fees, the family would get about $6900 in total benefit ($6500 in Excelsior + (40% X $1000) education credit). That family benefits $4400 from this Excelsior program. It may come as a surprise to these families who are thinking they will be benefiting by $6500.

    In the end, the message of the Excelsior program for families who meet the income criteria is that tuition will be paid for by grants, therefore the state can claim that tuition is free. The unexpected surprise to a lot of families will be when they realize they are not going to benefit by $6500 from where they were before. Either they get no benefit because TAP and Pell already meet tuition or they will lose a significant amount of the federal education credit so their income tax liability increases. The state gets all of the glory and reward of being able to proclaim tuition is free and there will be a net gain of benefit for most people who meet the income eligibility with the majority of those benefiting being the upper middle class. But anyone who thinks that their fortunes and benefits have now increased by $6500 will be disappointed when reality hits.

    We need to accept, though, that although this program may not seem as great as it was announced after we go through the calculations, it is a noble goal to make tuition free for anyone who qualifies and not let the cost of tuition stand in the way of a person’s pursuit of a degree. Many accommodations had to be made to get this through the legislature of a state that is already one of the most highly taxed in the country so I can accept the use of pell and TAP in the calculation of Excelsior and to limit it to those students attending SUNY or CUNY. Hopefully the other goals of the program come to fruition – keep more students in-state for college, increase enrollment at the state schools for a state that has been losing population, and have more college educated citizens who are motivated to live in NY and draw industry to NYS due to greater education of the work base.

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