A First-in-the-Nation Scholarship for Middle Class Students

Governor Cuomo alongside Secretary Hillary Clinton signs legislation enacting the Excelsior Scholarship Program.

Governor Cuomo alongside Secretary Hillary Clinton signs legislation enacting the Excelsior Scholarship Program.

By Onaly Perera

In the middle of Spring Break 2017 the news broke. CUNY and SUNY schools would become free for some New York residents. While other states offer free community college, this is the first free four-year college in New York.

The Excelsior scholarship program will allow any student whose family household income is under $100,000, to receive a free education in the CUNY and SUNY colleges. This cap will be raised up to $125,000 by 2019. The premise of free college is long over due for some debt-ridden students. According to Forbes, student debt is the second highest debt category. Over 44 million borrowers owing a total of over $1.3 trillion in student loans across America.

The Excelsior Scholarship will begin in all CUNY and SUNY schools in the fall of 2017. If a student decides to take advantage of the scholarship, they must take a total of 30 credits a year that can be spread throughout the summer. Another condition of the scholarship is that a student must stay in New York for the same amount of time they received free education. If a student chooses to leave the state after their education, the cost of education they received will turn into a loan.

The new Lehman dean of student affairs, Dr. Stanley Bazile is optimistic about the new initiative. “The idea is phenomenal,” said Dr. Bazile, but, he stressed that it was critical that CUNY and SUNY get the information to the students and provide proper advisement. Bazile sees this as a great way to make sure that more students are on track to graduate in a timely manner. He also said that the plan might reduce the drop out rate for those students who run out of financial aid before they finish their degree.

Dr. Stanley Bazile

Dr. Stanley Bazile

“If you look at folks who are coming from a low socio-economic status, you’re already starting from behind, and it becomes a ripple effect,” said Bazile. “Until you do something that monumentally shifts the landscape, you’re going to continue to have the divide in social economic status expand, which is what has been happening for decades.” Bazile says that all the Lehman departments have been prepped on the new program and are ready to assimilate the new program.

Some do not agree with the governor’s plan. In an article “New Yorks Free Tuition isn’t as Good as It Looks,” Kaitlin Mulhere, outlines the downsides of CUNY and SUNY becoming free. One major problem is that students who are forced to take 30 credits a year will have less time for work, meaning this plan could exclude working adults or single parents. She also says that “free tuition is not free college”. Even if the cost of tuition is covered, students would still have to work full time or borrow money to afford living expenses. The scholarship also does not cover books. Mulhere sees the scholarship as more of a help to the middle class then lower income families that receive tuition assistance from Pell grants and TAP.

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