Cuomo rolls out Excelsior, Aims to Help NYers Afford College

Student loan debt cripples millions of Americans but an initiative in NY is now making college more accessible.

Student loan debt cripples millions of Americans but an initiative in NY is now making college more accessible.

Last Wednesday  marked opening day for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior scholarship. Excelsior offers students an opportunity to attend a state community college or university for free. It also can potentially help those seeking seeking a higher education from taking out additional loans to cover rising costs.

NYS residents whose family household taxable income for 2015 is under $100,000 dollars will be eligible to receive up to $5,500 from the program and a total of up to $6,000 when combined with TAP and enhanced tuition. That threshold will actually increase by 2019 to $125,000. 

But qualifying for the scholarship requires work.

“Yes, students have to show a lot. They have to show proof of US citizenship, New York State residency,  provide their unofficial or official transcripts  and their Federal Student Aid report,” said Melissa Jarkowski, Interim-Director of Financial Aid Operations at Monroe Community College.

But, even with the extensive requirements, 4,000 students applied the first day, 28 of which will be attending Monroe Community College this Fall and the number is expected to rise.

“We’ve been doing info sessions…, there is visibility on the website and texts as well,” said Jarkowski. MCC also took to social media to inform people about the launch date of the application.

Students were able to sign up to receive an email notification informing them when the application went live. Even though the Excelsior application has only been available since Wednesday, students are being urged not to waste any time.

“Application deadline started yesterday and runs through July 21st there might be another round …but we don’t know yet,” said Jarkowski who said it is still unclear if applications will be made available for the following spring semester or will only be filled out once a year before the beginning of the fall semester. The scholarship is also slated to end in 2020 and as of right now, there is no extension after that date.

The scholarship is intended to encourage students to complete their college education on schedule. Because of financial obstacles like not being able to consistently afford school, students often take longer to complete their degree or simply drop out. Information released by the Free College Now Organization, suggests that dropout rates could decrease once the financial burden is removed.

“It’s more of a completion type scholarship. The intention is to get them to complete their associates within two years and complete their bachelors in another two years,” said Jarkowski. The scholarship requires students who finish 30 credit hours each year, a pace some say is too fast for students who have other obligations.

Critics voiced their opinions after Governor Cuomo re-introduced the idea of free tuition while at the  LaGuardia Community College in Queens this past January,saying a full time course load is not attainable for students who need to work full time or have children. While the most recent roll out of the scholarship still requires a full time course load, there is an option coming for part time students.

“We don’t have much information about that yet. The part time scholarship is only going to be for community college for students taking 6 credits and 12 credits,” said Jarkowski, who added anyone interested in applying for the part-time award can sign up for an email notification at the NYS Higher Education Services website.

Most college students need money and finding employment can teach a number of skills. Credit: Tianna Mañón

Most college students need money and finding employment can teach a number of skills. Credit: Tianna Mañón

Both scholarships are open to students looking to continue their education. Whether they will be going back to complete their first associates or are looking for assistance completing their bachelors at a state school.

While this initiative has faced criticism, it could mean a boost for the Rochester economy. Students who take advantage of Excelsior and graduate are required to stay in the state for as long as they received the scholarship. Those who don’t will have to pay back what they were given, in the form of a no-interest loan, meaning some graduates may choose to stay in the city after graduating from local institutes.

There is still time to get more information on the excelsior scholarship. Those who are interested in attending a state school in the fall can visit the NYS higher education website at www.hesc.ny.gov or call the financial aid office of the university you’re thinking of attending.

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