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Excelsior’s start at CUNY

The rollout of the Excelsior Scholarship, which would provide free tuition to those who qualify, has revealed some structural problems with the program.

For one thing, 75,000 students applied, while the state estimated that 23,000 students could receive the scholarship – students must be enrolled full-time and must fall below a certain household income. They must also stay in New York after graduation, or else the scholarship is converted into a loan.

Sylvia Lopez, the director of financial aid at John Jay College, told Clarion that the biggest source of frustration has come from transfer students who assumed they had enough credits carried over to get the scholarship for the Fall semester. “It’s the break in enrollment that’s confusing them,” she said.

Lopez noted that most students, upon learning they can’t get the scholarship, opt instead for a loan to cover the costs. On a scale of one to 10, Lopez said the rollout of the Excelsior scholarship has been a five. “It’s just all the unknown,” she said.

SMOOTHING THE BUMPS

Marcus Richardson, director of financial aid at Brooklyn College, said many students didn’t understand what was needed to apply for the scholarship. Richardson said the rollout of the new program has “gone as smoothly as could be expected. He said CUNY Central Office was helpful with his office getting equipped for the new program. “With a new program we can always use additional staff who can deal with this directly,” he said. “Getting an entire program up and running, to get accepted students at this point in the year is remarkable.”

Several other news outlets reported confusion from students about the process. Hunter College student Sabrina Green told City & State, “I had no idea that the number of credits from my previous semesters would affect my chances of receiving the scholarship. I don’t think I was adequately informed about the qualifications.”

The program, which the governor announced this January, will be phased in over the next three years, and it makes CUNY and SUNY “tuition-free” for qualified students whose gross family income is less than $100,000. (By 2019, the income threshold will increase to $125,000.)