Students and Faculty Respond to New York’s One-of-a-Kind Excelsior Scholarship

by Cheyenne Ubiera

Change is coming in the world of higher learning in the form of the Excelsior Scholarship. Under this program, which will be phased in over the next three years, New York state residents attending CUNY or SUNY schools may be eligible for a tuition-free education starting this fall semester.

The Excelsior Scholarship is the first of its kind in the United States. It allows students whose families make under $100,000 annually to be eligible for free tuition at two-year and four-year public state colleges. Though Manhattan College, a private institution, does not fall under the umbrella of this program it does affect many views on education.

David Caiafa, a junior economics and urban studies major and a native of New Jersey, gives an optimistic view of the program.

“It allows students with lower household incomes to be able to go to college without worrying how they will pay for it,” Caiafa said.

Caiafa believes the scholarship will have a successful future, saying that it will help lower income communities grow stronger and help the economy grow.

“The more people with a college education means more people joining the workforce, driving unemployment down,” he said.

Margaret Groake, an associate professor in the government department, received her doctoral education at the CUNY Graduate Center. She has participated in protests over state cuts to CUNY’s budget and state-mandated increases in tuition. Despite this, Groarke was skeptical of the impact that the Excelsior Scholarship will have on the affordability of a college education.

“It won’t be a ‘free’ education …students will still have to pay for room and board, and other expenses,” Groarke said. “And students have to take and pass fifteen credits a semester – a student who drops or fails a class may lose their scholarship.”

The effect that the Excelsior Scholarship will have on funding and enrollment is a huge concern for Groarke as she states that Governor Andrew Cuomo has said little about funding CUNY and SUNY to take on additional students as a result of this grant.

“Adequate funding of our public universities is a constant struggle in Albany. Of what value will the scholarship be if the governor underfunds CUNY and SUNY?” asked Groarke.

Justin Peralta, an economics and philosophy major in his senior year at MC, shared Groarke’s concerns with the future of the programs. He noted that the Excelsior Scholarship might accelerate a monetary devaluation of an undergraduate degree.

“The more people who have a degree in X means all holders of degree x are more easily replaceable,” said Peralta. “Education is always going to be seen as a worthwhile investment, but only because choosing not to go to college is statistically accompanied with less favorable outcomes.”

Peralta also believes that the Excelsior Scholarship is a pilot for future programs.

“The Excelsior Program isn’t a long term plan,” Peralta said. “It is a stepping stone for progressives to prove that the state should have a stronger presence in regard to college costs. Secondly, the issue remains that the cost of college itself is inflating rapidly… costs will have to be paid via taxation or some other means.”

The future of the Excelsior Scholarship remains uncertain; only time can truly tell whether the program will be successful and spread to other states or fizzle out entirely. Until then, students and professors alike can really only express their hopes and concerns for how the program will turn out.

Many private institutions, such as Manhattan College, are concerned that a program like the Excelsior Scholarship can have impacts on enrollment

“It’s useful to remember, though, that students and families look at many things when choosing a college, not just price,” Groarke said. “We’ll have to wait and see if this has any effect on who chooses to attend Manhattan College.”