Students whose adjusted gross income is $125,000 or less will now qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship due to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s expansion of the scholarship program in its third year.
The changes this year have led to a 15% increase in the amount of students who are impacted, from 729 students last year to approximately 850 students this year.
The mission of this unprecedented scholarship program is to increase the four-year graduation rate of New York State college students. To implement this goal, the rules about academics are strictly enforced.
Among the rules is the requirement to take at least 30 credits per year. Failure to do so results in the student losing their current scholarship award, as well as the money the program had previously granted them. Losing the scholarship for academic reasons also prohibits the student from applying again in the future.
Maureen Lohan-Bremer, director of financial aid at SUNY New Paltz, admits that the rules are “harsh,” but hopes the program will be successful in its mission.
“Staying an extra semester is the biggest budget buster… [because] you’re taking out extra loans [and] you’re delaying your entry into the job market,” Bremer said.
Bremer believes that because the program is in its infancy, there are still a few glitches to work out, although the foundations are steady. Morgan Hughes, a second-year English and digital media production major who was awarded the Excelsior Scholarship this year, testified to some of these glitches.
“I really appreciate [the Excelsior Scholarship] because I’m not paying that extra $5,000 or $3,000, which is going to be helpful in the long run,” Hughes said. “I just feel like they need to make a few updates to their system so that it’s easier to access and easier to be informed about.”
Among some of the flaws Hughes lists regarding her experience with the scholarship is a lack of information about the scholarship requirements, a surplus of required documents that have taken a long while to process, and difficulty contacting the financial aid office over the phone to ask questions.
The program’s steady financial growth since its inception has primarily impacted middle income families who often don’t qualify for much in grants and are forced to pay primarily with loans, according to Bremer.