Scholarship Experience Is Different Between Colleges

The Excelsior Scholarship experience is vastly different between Chautauqua County’s two public colleges.

A recent analysis by the Center for an Urban Future, a New York City-based policy organization, shows only 2.1 percent of Jamestown Community College’s 4,463 enrollees in 2017-18 were able to use the Excelsior Scholarship, slightly less than the statewide average of 2.2 percent.

The State University at Fredonia, on the other hand, saw 11.9 percent of its 4,393 students making use of the Excelsior Scholarship, nearly double the statewide average of 6.2 percent.

Statewide, the center’s analysis showed 20,086 students statewide — 3.2 percent of the 633,543 undergraduate students enrolled statewide — qualified for the Excelsior Scholarship.

“Data on rejected applications reveals that the Excelsior program’s heavy credit requirements were the main obstacle for most students.

Almost twice as many applicants were rejected for “not sufficient credits” as received Excelsior awards this year. The requirement that all students earn at least 30 credits in every year of enrollment is screening out the majority of applicants for the Excelsior Scholarship,” the study showed.

The state received 63,599 applications for Excelsior Scholarships, of which 43,513 were denied, a denial rate of 68 percent. In all, 83 percent of the denied applications for the Excelsior Scholarship was the lack of sufficient credits.

In addition to students not taking enough credits, other leading reasons an Excelsior Scholarship application was denied were students exceeding the income limit for the program (6 percent), a missing TAP application (5 percent) and a non-New York resident filling out the application (3 percent).



The run-up to the Excelsior Scholarship largely focused on the number of students eligible, the total cost for the program and the requirement that students would have to stay in New York for the same number of years after graduation as they used the scholarship.

At the time, 78.8 percent of Western New York families were eligible for the scholarship, roughly in line with the state’s 75.7 percent eligibility.

One of the selling points the governor made when he signed the legislation is that there was flexibility so that students facing hardship could pause and restart the program or even take fewer credits one semester than another.

“In New York, education was always the great equalizer, but today far too many young people have been deprived of the advanced degree they need to get ahead, compete in the global economy, and secure the jobs of tomorrow,” Cuomo said when he announced the Excelsior Scholarship program. “The Empire State is sending a message loud and clear that under the Excelsior Scholarship program students’ dreams of higher education will be realized no matter how much money is in their pocket or the neighborhood they come from. We are at a time of transformation – and New York will be the first in the nation to enact free tuition for middle-class families and move our economy forward. So to the Senate and Assembly I say, pass this plan and the rest of the country will follow.”

The release of the Center for an Urban Future report brought predictable criticism from Cynthia Nixon, who is challenging Cuomo for the Democratic Party’s nomination for governor.

“For Andrew Cuomo, it turns out that promising ‘free college’ for all is just another way to grab headlines. He attached so many barriers that his Excelsior Scholarship program only serves 3.2 percent of SUNY and CUNY students,” Nixon said in a statement on her website. “It’s false advertising for him to be running ads on the subway, on television, and online touting his fake free college program. When I am governor, we will have a real free College for All program.”

Marc Molinaro, the Republican Party’s candidate for governor, hasn’t said much about the program during his campaign. Don Kaplan, a spokesperson for Gov. Andrew Cuomo, defended both the Excelsior Scholarship and the rest of the state’s financial aid programs, when pressed about the Center for an Urban Future report earlier this week by Politico.


SUNY Fredonia has been able to make solid use of the Excelsior Scholarship thus far, but one wonders if tweaks to the program might make the program more helpful to community colleges like JCC.

In April 2017, State Assemblyman Andrew Goodell, R-Jamestown, told area business leaders that he preferred a different approach from the Excelsior Scholarship. Goodell said giving more financial assistance to colleges would allow the colleges to decrease costs for all students.

Goodell said the already-established Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) gives a higher benefit to low-income students, with the benefit phased down as income increases. He compared that with the Excelsior Scholarship Program, which applies to the difference between what a student already receives in financial aid and the amount of tuition.

“If you’re a poor student and get maximum TAP, the amount of scholarship (from the) Excelsior Scholarship is smallest,” Goodell told the business officials. “When you rush through the concept that in my opinion is first political headlines and secondarily helping students, you end up with all these quirky counterintuitive financial implications.”


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