Are Public Colleges Really Free In New York?

This past weekend New York became the first state to make four year public colleges tuition free by approving the Excelsior Scholarship.  The Excelsior Scholarship will cover the cost of tuition at SUNY, CUNY and community colleges for New York residents and it will go into effect this fall.  While the cost of tuition will be covered, other costs like fees and room and board will not be covered by the scholarship which could run over $15,000 annually.  Listed below are notable facts regarding the scholarship.

  • Starting this year, families who earn $100,000 or less will be eligible and this will be based on the family’s most recent tax return as reported on the FAFSA. The income will be phased up to $125,000 over three years.
  • There is no separate application process for the Excelsior Scholarship. Students must submit a FAFSA and scholarship eligibility will be determined based on the information provided.
  • After a student graduates, those who received the scholarship must reside and work in New York for the same number of years that they received the scholarship or it must be paid back as a loan.
  • Undocumented students are not eligible for the scholarship.
  • There is no age limit for this scholarship.
  • Students must be enrolled full time and are required to maintain the GPA necessary to stay in school.

While financial aid at the SUNY and CUNY colleges relied upon federal and state grants, available only to low income families, the Excelsior Scholarship provides support to those middle income families which comprise 80% of the New York population.  This comes at a time when legislators understand that college is a necessity and many students are not graduating because of the costs involved.  This is a progressive move for New York State and it should be interesting to see if other states follow suite.