2017 Excelsior Scholarship and TAP Testimony

Public Hearing – The Excelsior Scholarship and the Enhanced Tuition Awards Programs

Assembly Standing Committee on Higher Education

Public Hearing – The Excelsior Scholarship and the Enhanced Tuition Awards Programs

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Good morning. I want to thank Chairperson Deborah Glick, her fellow members of the Assembly who made time to be with us today, and legislative staff for providing this opportunity to discuss the Excelsior Scholarship Program from our vantage point within The State University of New York.

My name is Eileen McLoughlin, and I am Senior Vice Chancellor for Finance and Business and Chief Financial Officer for the SUNY System. I am pleased to be joined here today by Patricia Thompson, our Associate Vice Chancellor for Financial Aid, and Debra Bouabidi, Director of Financial Aid at Rockland Community College. Debra is also the President of State University of New York Financial Aid Professionals, SUNYFAP, in this role she represents all Financial Aid Professionals across SUNY. SUNYFAP membership includes 140 financial aid administrators across all 64 campuses.

First, I want to thank you for your support of SUNY over the years. We are fortunate to live and work in a state that prioritizes education, because not all states do. Thanks to a combination of existing financial aid from the State, federal government, campuses themselves, and now the Excelsior Scholarship program, 50 percent of full-time SUNY students now attend college tuition free.

To make the most of our time with you today, I wanted to be sure that the Assembly heard from at least one of our experts "on the ground," to get a real sense of what the Excelsior Scholarship program has meant, and could mean, to the SUNY system. Patti will start the conversation by providing a brief overview of the Excelsior Scholarship Program to-date, and then Debra will provide her perspective from a campus-level.

Thank you, Eileen. Thank you Chairwoman Glick and the Higher Ed Committee. It is my pleasure to be here today to talk about this program.

Very few days have gone by since the program was established in April when I have not personally been in touch with HESC, or one of our campuses, with regard to the Excelsior Scholarship. Working on this program, seeing its impact first-hand has been extremely rewarding – not only for the access and affordability it has provided for our students, but also for the close collaboration it has prompted among SUNY, CUNY, HESC, and the financial aid offices on our college campuses. There is great value in making college tuition-free for more New York families, and I think those of us working every day to ensure the program’s success are proud of what’s been accomplished thus far.

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship Program is the first of its kind in the nation that ensures students from middle class households throughout New York State are afforded an opportunity to attend a SUNY or CUNY institution tuition free.

To be eligible, students must maintain – with limited exceptions – 30 credits per year through the entirety of their educational career and have a family taxable income of less than $100,000 in 2017/18, growing to $125,000 by the time the program is fully implemented in 2019/20.

It is important to remember that this new scholarship program is last-dollar in nature and directed at tuition costs only, meaning that any funds awarded to the student from federal, state, or institutional financial aid programs such as TAP, Pell grants, and any other tuition-specific scholarships are applied first. For students who receive an award, the Excelsior Scholarship program covers any remaining tuition costs up to $5,500, with the difference then made up by the Excelsior Tuition Credit.

Like TAP, the Excelsior Scholarship requires students take at least 12 credits in the Fall and Spring term. However, Excelsior also requires recipients to earn 30 credits per year and stay on track to graduate within two or four years, depending on the type of degree they pursue. Excelsior further requires students to remain in New York State following graduation for four years to meet the residency requirement included in the statute. If these requirements are not fulfilled, the Scholarship is converted into a loan.

Since the program was established, we at SUNY have been doing everything we can to make sure our students and their families understand these program requirements, and that they know how and when to apply. Our work began by implementing the emergency regulations passed by the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) board in late May, and as I said, we have continued to work closely with HESC throughout this process.

I will now ask Debra to provide some examples of how this process has worked at Rockland Community College.

Thank you Chairwoman Glick and the Higher Ed Committee for the opportunity to provide testimony today. As the Director of Financial Aid at Rockland Community College and the President of the SUNY Financial Aid Professionals organization, I have been intimately involved with the start-up implementation of the Excelsior Scholarship program. I am here to testify that the countless hours and commitment of my SUNY financial aid colleagues along with the guidance received by SUNY System Admin financial aid staff and our valued partners at HESC have contributed to the inaugural success of this program.

If you had visited a SUNY campus over the summer months, you would have found multiple administrators and multiple offices, working on processes to forward the implementation of this vital program, which has been a game-changer for many students and families at our campuses.

What I witnessed in the last eight months, is a synergy of energy from all levels: SUNY campuses, financial aid professionals, bursars, registrars, SUNY System Admin staff and our partners at HESC. On a daily basis, a multitude of individuals worked side-by-side to get the job done – the goal being to appropriately award Excelsior Scholarships to eligible students in a very tight time frame.

Now, that we have done what was necessary to get this vital program off the ground, SUNYFAP and my colleagues at SUNY System Admin are continuing to work with our partners at HESC to develop sustainable administrative processes that mirror, to the extent possible, the other New York State grant and scholarship programs.

Lastly, as a community college representative, I would like to ask the legislature and the HESC representatives in the room, to consider, as you decide upon application time frames and processes, that community college students often function under different time frames and demands than traditional students attending SUNY’s four-year institutions. Community college students, often adult learners, tend to make enrollment decisions closer in time to the start of a given semester.

Application windows that precede the start of a semester by months automatically eliminates some students from scholarship consideration. I ask that the State and HESC be cognizant that the timing of the application process for the Excelsior Scholarship influences who eventually is awarded funding. To maximize Excelsior Scholarship usage among our SUNY community colleges, the application window, to the extent practicable, should remain open as long and as close as possible to a semester’s start date.

Days after opening the application window for its free public college tuition program, New York received more than 21,000 applications.

In total, more than 63,866 of Excelsior Scholarship applicants applied to SUNY. This included approximately 18,521 new freshman and approximately 45,345 returning or transfer students whose prior earned credits were reviewed by our campuses.

To date, our campuses confirmed that about 35,503 SUNY students were eligible to receive the Excelsior Scholarship, and about 17,509 were likely to receive Excelsior Scholarship dollars to pay for costs not fully covered by TAP, Pell, and other scholarships.

Before turning back to Eileen, I would just like to note that SUNY has a suite of programs in place to support degree completion among students, so we are prepared to help Excelsior Scholarship awardees stay on track to be able to fulfill the 30 credit per year requirement. Briefly, some examples are as follows:

In addition to the marketing and recruitment efforts in place to assist new students in understanding the Excelsior Scholarship application process and eligibility criteria, SUNY is exploring the use of Smart Track’s targeted email communications to assist Excelsior Scholarship recipients in understanding the academic requirements to maintain their scholarship eligibility while they pursue their education at a SUNY campus. These messages will support the academic and financial aid advisement which campuses provide to all students.

We are in the midst of recruiting students for Fall 2018 and the Excelsior Scholarship Program has been an integral part of those efforts. We’ve distributed information about the Excelsior Scholarship to more than 8,000 high school students at SUNY College Fairs this fall. SUNY’s 2018 Financial Aid Brochure, Financial Aid Timeline, and financial aid website also include the Excelsior Scholarship information this year. In addition, Excelsior is also being addressed in financial aid workshops at college fairs and at information sessions for high school guidance counselors.

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