Governor Cuomo Announces First-in-the-Nation Excelsior Scholarship Program Will Provide Tuition-Free College to Middle-Class Families

April 8, 2017

From the Office of Governor Cuomo

The Excelsior Scholarship is Included in the FY 2018 Budget Agreement

First-in-the-Nation Program Makes NYS Public Universities Tuition-Free for Families Making Up to $125,000 Per Year, Alleviating Crushing Burden of Student Debt and Placing More New Yorkers on Path to Financial Security

Nearly 80 Percent or More Than 940,000 Families with College-Aged Children Across New York Would Qualify for Tuition-Free College at SUNY and CUNY Under Governor’s Bold Proposal

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo today announced that the Excelsior Scholarship, a first-of-its-kind in the nation program will provide tuition-free college at New York’s public colleges and universities to families making up to $125,000 a year, and is included in the FY 2018 Budget agreement. The Excelsior Scholarship was the Governor’s first proposal in his 2017 State of the State. The Budget additionally includes $8 million to provide open educational resources, including e-books, to students at SUNY and CUNY colleges to help defray the prohibitive cost of textbooks.

“With this budget, New York has the nation’s first accessible college problem. It’s a different model,” said Governor Cuomo. “Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it. The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make. There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because parents can’t afford it. With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

Under the Excelsior Scholarship, nearly 80 percent, or 940,000 middle-class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year, would qualify to attend college tuition-free at all CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges in New York State.

A regional breakdown of families who would be eligible for the program is available below.

Region Number of Families with College-Age Students Percentage Eligible
Western New York 68,712 78.8%
New York City 461,499 84.3%
Long Island 112,890 55.6%
Hudson Valley 92,333 63%
Capital Region 44,108 74.9%
Mohawk Valley 24,845 84.8%
Finger Lakes 55,747 79.2%
North Country 18,542 84.8%
Central New York 37,922 79.6%
Southern Tier 25,588 81.2%
Statewide Total: 942,186 75.7%

The new program 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. Scholars must be enrolled in college full-time and average 30 credits per year (including Summer and January semesters) in order to receive the funding, however, the program has built in flexibility so that any student facing hardship is able to pause and restart the program, or take fewer credits one semester than another.

Students are required to maintain a grade point average necessary for the successful completion of their coursework, and, as the program makes a major investment in the state’s greatest asset – our young people – scholars will be required to live and work in-state for the same number of years after graduation as they received the scholarship while in school.

The Budget provides a record $7.5 billion in total support for higher education, a $448 million, or 6.3 percent, increase over last year. These initiatives build on the Governor’s commitment to making college affordable for all students in the Empire State, including the nation-leading 'Get On Your Feet' Loan Forgiveness Program, which allows eligible college graduates living in New York to pay nothing on their student loans for the first two years out of school.

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, a law school, the country’s oldest school of maritime, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.4 million students amongst its entire portfolio of credit- and non-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 are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2023, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than 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 opportunities, visit

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Holly Liapis
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