Doug Mills / New York Times

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-N.Y.), pictured, formally unveiled the scholarship at LaGuardia Community College in April after New York lawmakers approved it.

June 21, 2017

Cuomo’s Free Tuition Plan Will Apply to Cornell’s Contract Colleges, But With a Caveat

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Eligible New York residents will now be able to attend Cornell’s three undergraduate contract colleges — the agriculture college, human ecology college and ILR — under the state’s newly established “Excelsior Scholarship.”

The Excelsior Scholarship, which goes into effect this fall, allows New York residents whose family income does not exceed $100,000 to attend a CUNY or SUNY college tuition-free. For the 2018-19 academic year, recipients’ family incomes must be below $110,000 and beyond that year, incomes must be below $125,000.

The contract colleges are listed with other SUNY schools on SUNY’s website.

But the scholarship contains several caveats, and recipients attending Cornell face another: the scholarship alone will not cover any student’s entire tuition at any contract college.

The scholarship will cover tuition up to $6,470 for the 2017-18 academic year, according to an official New York state education agency, but in-state tuition at Cornell’s contract colleges will be $35,483.

Nor does the scholarship apply to the additional expenses borne by students. These expenses — including housing, dining, textbooks and more — total $17,468 for the average Cornell student, the University estimates.

The scholarship is a “last-dollar” award that applies after its recipient has exhausted all other financial aid sources, according to NPR. This means that normal Cornell financial aid will be applied before the scholarship kicks in — so, if the University determines that a student’s family can bear $6,470 or less of the cost of attending Cornell, eligible New Yorkers can have their state foot the rest of the bill.

“Most Cornell students who are in the income group … that is eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship typically already receive much more financial aid” from the University than the amount the scholarship provides, said Lindsey Hadlock, University media relations coordinator.

The scholarship is open for application from June 7 through July 21. Students currently enrolled at state institutions are able to apply and access the scholarship. You can apply for the scholarship here.

The word "Excelsior" — New York's official motto, meaning "ever upward" — is inscribed above the entrance to Mann Library (pictured). The library serves two of Cornell's contract colleges — CALS and human ecology.

April Ryles / Sun File Photo

The word “Excelsior” — New York’s official motto, meaning “ever upward” — is inscribed above the entrance to Mann Library (pictured). The library serves two of Cornell’s contract colleges — CALS and human ecology.

Some education experts have said the scholarship is not as helpful for students as it may appear. Matthew Chingos of the Urban Institute wrote in the Washington Post that the scholarship won’t benefit low-income students all that much.

Low-income students who attend most SUNY schools can get free tuition simply from Pell Grants and other state programs, Chingos said, making the Excelsior Scholarship irrelevant to those students.

“[T]uition is already free for them and they receive no additional benefits under [Gov. Andrew] Cuomo’s plan, despite the fact that they still have to come up with more than $10,000 to cover non-tuition costs such as rent and food,” Chingos wrote.

One of the scholarship’s provisions in particular drew some experts’ ire: recipients of the award must live and work in New York State for the four or two years — depending on how many years the student was using scholarship funds — following their college graduation.

This stipulation has been referred to as the “residency requirement.”

If recipients do not comply with the residency requirement, the scholarship grants will become loans, to be paid back to New York State over 10 years at most.

Prof. Sara Goldrick-Rab, education, Temple University, said the residency requirement “undermines the economic and educational impact of free college.” She maintained in a blog post that the requirement will deter scholarship recipients from taking potentially good jobs outside New York, joining the military and attending non-New York graduate schools that the student is otherwise suited to attend.

Cuomo, an advocate of the scholarship, defended the residency requirement.

“Why should New Yorkers pay for your college education and then you pick up and you move to California?” the Democrat asked New York journalists in a conference call, according to the New York Post.

A guidance counselor at Williamsville South High School near Buffalo told The Buffalo News that she thinks students are not applying for the scholarship because of the residency requirement and other uncertainties about the plan’s “fine print.”

Another controversial detail listed in the “fine print” is the plan’s credit requirement.

Recipients must attend college full-time — 30 credits per year — and stay on track to finish their degree on time. That requirement could render a large portion of CUNY students ineligible for the financial award: only 7 percent of CUNY students who entered in fall 2012 graduated on time, according to research assembled by the university system.

If recipients fall behind the credit minimum in any academic year, the state’s award will only cover the first semester of that year.

The credit minimum is lenient for certain hardships, and some supporters of the credit quota say it provides a positive incentive for students to graduate on time. Some of its opposers say it burdens students who have other responsibilities, like work or childcare.

Still, the scholarship has many sources of support. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) praised an early version of the scholarship and Hillary Clinton joined New York Governor Andrew Cuomo at LaGuardia Community College for its unveiling in April. Some scholars have praised Cuomo’s plan for its simplicity and for its ostensible likelihood to help middle-class students.

Nearly 32,000 have already applied for the scholarship, The Buffalo News said on Monday. The state allocated enough money to cover 22,000 students over the next year, according to Inside HigherEd.

When the Excelsior Scholarship became state law in April, The Sun asked Cornell, Ithaca, and New York State officials whether or not the scholarship applied to the University’s contract colleges. None gave a conclusive answer.

The University recently confirmed that the scholarship would be usable at its contract colleges, but it too seemed to be facing difficulty getting answers in April. Asked whether or not the scholarship could be used at Cornell’s contract colleges, John Carberry, senior director of media relations for Cornell, told The Sun in April that the University was “working with the Governor and the Legislature to understand the various implications of the Excelsior Scholarship.” The Sun also called the University’s official state relations office asking the same question, and although the office also was trying to find the answer, none had been found at that point.