Governor Cuomo Announces Facebook New York to Host Final Judging and Pitch Session of Making College Possible Coding Challenge

March 7, 2017

Five Finalist Teams from SUNY Albany, SUNY Fredonia, Stony Brook University and Queens College Will Present to Tech and Business Leaders

Final Judging Will be Hosted at the Facebook NY Office on Friday, March 10

First-Ever Statewide Coding Competition part of Excelsior Scholarship Campaign – More Information is Available Here

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that Facebook will host the final judging of the "Making College Possible Coding Challenge" on Friday, March 10 at its New York office. The "Making College Possible Coding Challenge" invited students from SUNY and CUNY schools to build a mobile app or website to share information about the Excelsior Scholarship, Governor Cuomo's first-in-the-nation proposal to make public college tuition-free for New York's working- and middle-class families.

As part of the final judging, five challenge finalists will pitch their products to a panel of New York’s business and technology leaders, who will select the winning submission. Judges will include:

  • Neil Blumenthal, CEO & Co-Founder of Warby Parker
  • Jeanne Jang, Director of the IBM Innovation Lab
  • Jeff Reynar, Engineering Director, Facebook New York
  • Judith Spitz, Ph.D., Founding Program Director, Women in Technology and Entrepreneurship in New York, and former Chief Information Officer, Verizon

“New York’s spirit of innovation and creativity is on full display in its world-class public university system and in this one-of-a-kind competition,” Governor Cuomo said. “The ideas each student team will bring to this final judging are shining examples of the ways technology and education intersect, and a great way to share information about college affordability and accessibility. The Excelsior Scholarship will allow thousands of New York students like them to attend college tuition-free, and I commend each competitor for providing a platform to highlight this important issue.”

More than 70 teams representing more than 370 students participated in the “Making College Possible Coding Challenge.” These five finalist teams were selected to advance to the final judging and pitch session. The five finalist teams and their college are:

  • Collegium - SUNY Albany
  • Campus Hive - SUNY Fredonia
  • Team Chepang - Stony Brook University
  • Fast Pass - Queens College
  • Team Knight - Queens College

Jeff Reynar, Engineering Director at Facebook New York, said, “The accessibility of college education, particularly in science and engineering, is vital to helping ensure young people are able to participate in and benefit from the technology-driven economy of the future here in New York and across the globe. At Facebook, we're delighted to host the 'Making College Possible Coding Challenge' and look forward to following the participants as they develop into engineers, and help others do the same.”

Neil Blumenthal, CEO of Warby Parker, said, “At Warby Parker, we know that innovation and technology are key to staying competitive in all fields—including business and, now, education. These SUNY and CUNY students represent the future, and their creative projects and passion for coding prove that New York is a thriving place for technological and educational innovation.  I look forward to seeing their final projects and supporting New York students.”

Jeanne Jang, Director of the IBM Digital Innovation Lab, said, “I am proud to stand with Governor Cuomo and the New York tech community in supporting these impressive students. IBM has a long standing commitment to innovation—how new, creative ideas can turn into exciting solutions to address all kinds of problems. The “Making College Possible Coding Challenge” is a great way for New York’s students to present their own ideas about an issue that affects them most directly—college affordability.”

Judith Spitz, PhD, Founding Program Director of WiTNY and former CIO of Verizon, said, “Technology, much like education, has the power to open the doors of possibility for all. Through Cornell Tech's WiTNY initiative, we recognize the imperative of including everyone, particularly women, in both higher education and entrepreneurship in technology. With the digital age transforming every aspect of our lives, we cannot be successful as a state or as a nation without the full participation of the groups that are currently underrepresented in the technology workforce and leadership ranks. The students participating in the 'Making College Possible Coding Challenge' exemplify this and show that the ideas and voices of this diverse group are the fuel for the next phase of the innovation economy.”

The winning submission will be used to promote the Excelsior Scholarship, and the finalists will receive $2,000 per team furnished by the SUNY and CUNY systems. The finalists will also have the opportunity to take a tour of Facebook's office, meet Facebook engineers and learn about the company and its culture.

All members of the media wishing to attend are required to have proper credentials, which can be requested via email at Please include the name of your media outlet, reporter, videographer and/or photographer, and a phone number. Please respond by Thursday, March 9 by 1:00 PM.

Know the Facts – The Excelsior Scholarship

The Excelsior Scholarship program requires participating students to be enrolled at a SUNY or CUNY two- or four-year college full-time. The initiative will cover middle class families and individuals making up to $125,000 through a supplemental aid program. Currently 80 percent of NY households statewide make $125,000 or less with an estimated 940,000 households having college-aged children that would be eligible for the program.

The new initiative will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

The Excelsior Scholarship program is designed to provide the most students with the greatest opportunity to attend college tuition free in New York – and that goal is met most cost-effectively by partnering with SUNY and CUNY.

The Governor’s program does not treat New York’s private universities unfairly. The state has invested more than $2.4 billion in private schools since 2011, and currently provides grants to approximately 90,000 students to attend private schools. The state of New York’s investment in private colleges is greater than that of any other state besides Texas.

Moreover, tuition at New York’s private colleges is much higher than at public institutions – the average tuition for a private school in New York is $34,000 a year compared to roughly $6,400 at SUNY and CUNY four-year schools and $4,300 at our community colleges.

Based on enrollment projections, the plan is expected to cost approximately $163 million per year once fully phased in. While the cost estimate of the program is low, that is because it works with already existing programs to close the “last mile” of tuition costs. It combines New York’s already robust $1 billion Tuition Assistance Program with federal grant funding, and then fills in any remaining gaps.

The Governor’s program also works by incentivizing students to graduate on-time, requiring students to attend college full-time and graduate with an Associate’s Degree in two years or a Bachelor’s Degree in four years. Graduation rates at New York’s public colleges, while similar to other schools nationwide, are too low – 61 percent of four-year students and 91 percent of our two-year community college students in New York don’t complete their degrees on time.

The Excelsior scholarship aims to change that, saving students time and money by reducing their overall debt burden. The plan also recognizes there may be circumstances outside students' control, which is why the proposal includes a “stepping out” provision so that students will be able to pause and restart the program if life gets in the way.

By 2024, 3.5 million jobs in New York State will require an associate’s degree or higher – roughly 420,000 more jobs than in 2014. But for too many families, the cost of college is currently out of reach. The Excelsior Scholarship will equip students with the skills they need to succeed by making an advanced degree tuition free, and ensure they are able to secure the high-tech, high-paying jobs of tomorrow.

About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. As of Fall 2019, more than 415,500 students were enrolled in a degree-granting program at a SUNY campus. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide exceeded $1.7 billion in fiscal year 2019, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit, and for more information about additional COVID-19 fundraising efforts, visit #SUNYTogether.

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