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SUNY Chancellor Calls Excelsior Scholarship A Success Despite Low First-Year Numbers

Ellen Abbott
SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson at the New York State Fair in Syracuse Thursday.

SUNY Chancellor Kristina Johnson is calling the Excelsior Scholarship a success despite statistics that show it was used by only 3.2% of SUNY students to help pay tuition costs in its first year.

According to the New York State Higher Education Corporation, just over 20,000 students were awarded the scholarship in the 2017-2018 school year. About half of the 100,000 applicants were denied and others declined the funding or did not fulfill the requirements. When the program was announced in January 2017, Governor Andrew Cuomo said that more than 940,000 families with college-age children would qualify. 

Johnson wants to drill down into those numbers though. She said there are some very positive impacts from the scholarship, specifically when it comes to a lower dropout rate.

"The retention rate is 10% higher with Excelsior students, with scholarships which are Excelsior, than for students that don’t have an Excelsior Scholarship," Johnson said. "And 15% higher for community colleges where a lot of our students get their start. So I'm excited after this year to look at graduation rates, particularly at community college where you have 15% higher retention.”

Johnson said she believes the program is working as it was designed, and noted other SUNY programs that have piggybacked on the scholarship. They include a financial literacy initiative and "Re-Enroll to Complete," which allows students to go back to school after dropping out.

The Excelsior Scholarship is open to SUNY or CUNY students from families that earn less than $125,000, provided the student stays in New York for as many years as they receive the scholarship. New York is the only state program that offers the last-dollar assistance to students in four-year schools. 

On Long Island, Stony Brook University had only about 810 students qualify. Suffolk County Community College had about 430. The numbers were also low at Long Island’s SUNY schools. 

Cuomo had expected the scholarship would have helped 200,000 students statewide by the end of this year.   

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's managing editor. He also hosts the climate podcast Higher Ground. J.D. reports for public radio stations across the Northeast, is a journalism educator and proud SPJ member.