The Excelsior Scholarship has historic potential to provide students across the state with a quality public education. More students will gain access to an education at the University at Albany, among other SUNY and CUNY schools, tuition free. However, in order to fully grasp the implications of this program, a series of points must be considered.
Under current law, students are expected to fit into a set of financial and academic conditions to qualify for free tuition. The guidelines require students to come from a family with an income of $100,000 or less, soon to increase to $125,000. Students must complete their degree by taking 30 credits per year – a feat that may not be ideal for all SUNY students, including those with work responsibilities.
Additionally, students must reside within the state for the same duration in which they receive the tuition scholarship. The application will require students to sign a promissory note with a residency requirement for New York, which could limit the types of opportunities that are made available to students if employment or other opportunities lie outside of the state. If a student fails to meet the conditions of the scholarship then the funds awarded will turn into a loan. The program does, however, allow a student to diverge from the academic conditions presented under certain circumstances. Any student facing hardship is able to pause or restart the program, or take fewer credits one semester.
Graduating on time is a praiseworthy accomplishment.
UAlbany reported that approximately 56 percent of matriculated full-time freshmen from the fall 2011 entering class received a baccalaureate degree within four years of study.
If the Excelsior Scholarship helps more students graduate on a timely basis then that is a positive development. However, is this policy adequate for our students? There are currently many programs that provide tuition assistance for SUNY students. Those must be exhausted before the excelsior scholarship is allowed. If a significant amount of students may not be able to conform to these specific guidelines, a different policy may be needed to aid the growing costs of higher education.
Government assistance in the form of room and board, books and supplies, and student fees may provide a more adequate solution to the growing costs associated with higher education at institutions such as UAlbany. Housing fees are one of the costs that have consistently increased in recent years at the university.
Additionally the university has expanded its academic outreach and opportunities as well as increased retention rates of students, thus impacting student housing on campus as well as in the Albany area.
The university continues to offer expansive opportunities as a major research institution. For many students the scholarship program puts the world within reach. While aiding some students of New York it is a first step towards a more accessible and well-rounded access program for students to benefit from a high quality higher education.