What is The Excelsior Scholarship? How Does It Affect SUNY Empire Students? Details Evolving

by Helen Edelman, manager, Exchange

January 5, 2017

Now that New York state has passed legislation offering The Excelsior Scholarship, which has been popularized as “free tuition at two- and four-year colleges,” SUNY Empire is fielding questions from prospective and current students, faculty, staff and the general public about how this program applies to the college. The Excelsior Scholarship, approved as part of the state budget, will cover full-time students in the State University of New York system, which totals 64 campuses and 1.3 million students. The estimated cost for the program, set to begin in fall 2017, is $163 million per year.

“I commend Gov. Cuomo and the state Legislature for their outstanding support of SUNY in this year’s budget," said President Merodie Hancock. “A tuition plan, combined with maintenance of effort by the state, will enable SUNY Empire to enhance the high-quality education we provide to our students through more consistent and reliable funding for the teaching, research and scholarship of our faculty, as well as student and academic support services. 

“Additional resources for capital construction means our facilities will properly support all the efforts of our students, faculty and staff. 

“The Excelsior Scholarship provides significantly enhanced access and affordability to public higher education for New York's full-time students, increasing degree completion and putting 'public' back in public higher education. 

“It also now opens the door to exploring new ways of incorporating nontraditional and part-time students more fully into New York's top-in-the-nation, affordable public colleges and universities.” 

In the program’s current form, students from families making up to $100,000 a year would be eligible in the program's first year, and, by the third year, that would increase to $125,000. However, because of certain restrictions in the legislation, this version of this scholarship will not be available for many SUNY Empire students for a variety of reasons:

  • One requirement is to take/pass 30 hours per year. While students can accumulate the 30 hours using spring, fall, summer and any interim terms (e.g. winter break accelerated term for schools that have them), the scholarship will cover only courses taken within the fall and spring terms. 
  • The program is available to transfer students only if they historically completed at least 30 credits per year. If a student was ever less than full-time (i.e., 30 credits per year), as many SUNY Empire students have been, as they combine work and study, he/she is not eligible.
  • Recipients must live in New York for the same amount of time during which they received the grant (i.e., two years post graduation for an associate degree student; four years for a bachelor’s  degree student). If this condition is not met, the grant converts to a loan. There will be some exceptions for hardship/approved delays for military service, graduate school, etc., but these are not yet fully defined.
  • The scholarship is “last dollar,” meaning Pell and TAP come first. Like TAP, there is a tuition gap, meaning colleges will need to make up the difference between the real tuition and what Excelsior pays.
  • This SUNY link contains much of the information currently available about The Excelsior Scholarship, which will be more comprehensive as points are fine-tuned. The college also will create internal and external resources in the coming days.

Details of and access to The Excelsior Scholarship are still evolving as parameters for eligibility become more specific. Information will be updated here as it is clarified and confirmed. Meanwhile, Hancock continues to advocate for less restrictive New York state grant programs that meet the needs of nontraditional students.

For more information from the Office of the President in the immediate future, email Michael.Mancini@esc.edu or Sandra.Barkevich@esc.edu.  The president’s staff will be working collectively on providing feedback and answers to questions from the college community.

More information about The Excelsior Scholarship also is available from the NYS Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) here.

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