Will a majority of the Excelsior Scholarship applications be rejected?

Cuomo at the Excelsior announcement with Bernie Sanders. Photo courtesy LCC.

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By Darren Johnson
Campus News

I tend to err on the side of caution — as opposed to risking accidentally spreading fake news — but I got a press release today from a person I worked with before, for my May 2016 story on the free online college, University of the People (UoPeople), and it appears trustworthy. The release states: “As we know, over 50,000 applicants are to be rejected from New York’s Excelsior tuition-free college promise…” And then it pitches that these rejected students should now apply to UoPeople, instead.

OK, fair enough, UoPeople is a growing movement, and my research into them last year showed they were doing things the right way and their heart is in the right place. It’s for real, if not yet regionally accredited.

But what caught me by surprise is the 50,000 number. It was reported in The Legislative Gazette that 75,000 students applied for the “free tuition” SUNY/CUNY scholarship before the deadline. I have been calling SUNY/CUNY college leaders, for a yet-to-be-published story, who say that they have seen an uptick in applications because of the scholarship. If the UoPeople press release is to be believed, then two-thirds of students will be rejected for the “free” tuition scholarship.

Now, according the Gazette article, the state only budgeted for 23,000 awards. Demand has turned out greater than expected. I looked into this scholarship for my to-be-sophomore daughter, but she only received 26 transferable credits in her freshman year — the rules clearly state 30 credits are needed (but how would she have known to take 30 credits last year, when the rules were just announced this summer?). Maybe many other students are in the same boat as my daughter — a few credits shy of the 30, 60 or 90 required to be a true sophomore, junior or senior?

Also, during my phone calls with several SUNY/CUNY administrators, they said that they encouraged their applicants to apply for Excelsior, but these students may qualify for full rides anyway, with TAP and Pell Grants paying the relatively low tuitions instead. So perhaps they were denied Excelsior money because they didn’t need it — Excelsior doesn’t pay out if the student gets other financial aid to cover the whole bill.

Thus, maybe we shouldn’t be too alarmed by that 50,000 rejected number.

All administrators I spoke with said that while many students may not end up qualifying for Excelsior, the administrators like that the program created a positive “buzz” — telling students that college is indeed important. It encouraged students to take action and start their paths to get a degree.

What might also happen is that private colleges, which worried about declining enrollments with “free” tuition at the public colleges, may see a last-second surge in registrants, as some students were pending their final college choice on their Excelsior verdict.

In any case, Excelsior is new, and there are going to be some kinks to work out, but the overall message is good — families who earn $100,000 to 125,000 often get no aid, but they deserve some, because New York is an expensive state to live in, and $125,000 is not “wealthy” here. Hopefully, the state budgets more money for this for next year, and loosens the requirements a little bit so that more students qualify. It’s a nice perk for the often neglected middle-earners in the state.

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  • Cynthia Rivera

    I don’t believe the terms were clear enough in the beginning. I applied for the scholarship day one because I met the income requirements, and planned on taking courses full time to be eligible. I was approved, and registered for classes only to be denied at the last minute. The reason being: I didn’t get 30 credits a year when I went to school for my associates. They’re advertising this scholarship as something that can help everyone, and yet they’re imposing terms on your past, before the Excelsior scholarship existed. These terms are ridiculous, and they’re not being upfront about all this. I think we should be alarmed by how many people are being rejected, because they are probably in a similar boat to mine. It’s not right that someone who was a good student gets denied for stupid reasons like this. So, the only people who are truly eligible are people who have never been to school, or who are currently in school and happened to take 30 credits every year. If you don’t fall into those two categories, you’re screwed. What about people who can only go to school part time because they have to work? What about the people who had to drop out of school? What about the people who were taking 12 credits a year(still full time) but didn’t realize they would be screwed over retroactively because they didn’t happen to take 30 credits a year? I don’t know why I had high hopes for something coming from the government. I should have known better.