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SUNY Streamlines Process To Waive Application Fees

ALBANY — State University of New York applicants from low-income backgrounds can automatically have their college application fees waived, SUNY Chancellor Jim Malatras announced Monday.

Beginning March 1, students who financially qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs, whose household income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or are from foster families can apply to up to seven SUNY campuses for free — a savings of up to $350 in application fees per student. The application fee per school is $50.

Currently, a student may seek a waiver if a school guidance counselor signs off on it or if the student submits a separate waiver with family financial information. This has barred many eligible students from participating in the program, Malatras announced at a press conference at Thomas R. Proctor High School in Utica.

“Too many barriers from food insecurity to fees stand in the way of many qualified students — from low-income and communities of color — and a college education. We must do everything we can to break down barriers and empower students no matter their economic status or background, especially as a vast majority of all new jobs created requires some post-secondary education,” Malatras said.

A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research found that students who are eligible for fee waivers are often deterred from applying to college due to multi-step processes required to prove eligibility, as well as misunderstanding or confusion about eligibility for fee waivers.

Only about 50 percent of low-income SUNY applicants eligible for an application fee waiver take advantage of the program.

The automatic waiver will soon be seamless with an electronic check box that the student or counselor clicks on when sending in transcripts.

An estimated 110,000 high school seniors would be eligible for the application fee waiver.

Students with any questions about the application process may schedule one-on-one admission help at www.suny.edu/start.

Malatras was joined by Utica Superintendent Bruce Karam, Principal Joshua Gifford, SUNY Polytechnic Institute Acting President Tod Laursen, and New York State Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito.

“The automatic fee waiver comes during the middle of a pandemic when too many lower-income families are struggling to make ends meet. It is now that the college-age kids from these families need this assistance the most,” Destito said.

Application data shows that the pandemic has accelerated the problem of declining enrollment, with applications dropping most among low-income or communities of color.

The new automatic application fee waiver is part of a SUNY push to close college equity gaps for high school seniors through outreach to high school students who could benefit the most from a college degree.

Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. and state Education Department Commissioner Betty A. Rosa commended SUNY for streamlining the application fee waiver process for economically disadvantage students.

“SUNY is eliminating an unnecessary barrier that could impact a young person’s ability to attain his or her full potential,” Rosa and Young said in a statement.

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