SUNY Chancellor Introduces Excelsior Scholarship

Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher paid a visit to the College for a small group of faculty and staff, students and community members to answer any questions about New York’s tuition-free degree program, the Excelsior Scholarship.

To apply for the Excelsior Scholarship, students must be residents of New York and plan to attend a SUNY or CUNY two or four-year degree program, take 30 credits per year, maintain good academic standing and be on track to graduate with an Associate’s Degree in two years or a Bachelor’s Degree in four years.

After a brief introduction by President Donald P. Christian and a short video from Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, Zimpher first expressed her appreciation for New Paltz and called it a “shining star” of SUNY’s 64 campuses.

Zimpher began by discussing the education pipeline and the importance of staying on track to graduate in two to four years.

Zimpher cited this idea, stating that a college degree begins at birth.

“Kindergarten, elementary school, high school — all of that has to be done before you can even begin thinking about college,” she said.

The outgoing chancellor expressed her concerns over how many high school seniors leave high school in June believing that they will be attending college only to find out three months later, they aren’t going to make it there.

“I’m very proud to say that on the morning of Jan. 3 at 10 in the morning I was sitting row two for the governor’s announcement at LaGuardia Community College of the Excelsior Scholarship Program,” she said.

Zimpher said that she is particularly proud of the notion of the required 30 credit hours a year because it is more flexible than 15 a semester and it incentivizes full-time enrollment.

“If you can go full-time you are much more likely to graduate on time and avoid incurring debt,” she said. “We want you to be able to graduate in two or four years, and hopefully, debt free.”

The cap for the Excelsior Scholarship is set at $55,000 but as Zimpher noted, SUNY tuition is $64,700. According to Zimpher, SUNY will pay the difference and be reimbursed by the state.

“I’m all in because the majority of jobs require an associate’s degree; I’m all in because getting a college degree will double your lifetime earnings; I’m all in because I believe the Excelsior Scholarship Program builds hope for a better life and I’m all in because I think SUNY New Paltz will benefit from this program,” Zimpher said. “You know that a SUNY degree is a valuable degree.”

Zimpher made it clear that the program was a last dollar implementation and that admission requirements will remain the same citing that they are essential to the high profile the university upholds.

“Students still need to fill out their FASFA, call TAP and then apply for this program; filling out that FASFA form still remains to be job one,” she said. “We want you to come and we want more students.

The questions began with an inquiry regarding the use of data from 2015 and whether or not it would be outdated. Zimpher responded that practice would lead to better adjustments in the future.

The next few questions dealt with the technicalities of eligibility including summer sessions, families with multiple children, children of divorce, students pursuing a double major and seniors who do not require full time enrollment to complete their final semester.

The requirement to live and work in New York in the four years after graduation was also discussed. Zimpher stated that since New York is making an investment in an individual’s education, a return on that investment is expected. 

However, if, for some reason, an individual does not meet this requirement, the scholarship then becomes an interest-free loan, according to Christian.

Christian closed the session with comments on the importance of full time enrollment and graduating within four years, adding that the chances of graduating within four years at SUNY New Paltz are better than those of the average public school.

The application for the program will be ready for eligible students on June 7.

More information about the Excelsior Scholarship can be found at or text COLLEGE to 81336.