Enrollment Soars — Along With Quality

Attracted by academic quality and continuing affordability, a record 269,300 students are expected to enroll at CUNY this fall, including 8,200 more undergraduates than last fall. This is the University’s 11th straight year of growth. More top students than ever factor in the mix. The University accepted 20,202 applicants with a high-school GPA of 85 or above. That’s 7.8 percent more top applicants than in fall 2010 and a stunning 104.5 percent more than in fall 2002 — a clear indication of the steadily rising esteem with which students who have academic options hold CUNY.

The University accepted about 69,000 freshmen, approximately 2,250 more than last year. It accepted about 28,200 transfer students, close to equally split between students transferring from within and outside of CUNY; the total number of transfers is roughly 5,300 more than last year. Actual enrollment figures and details will be available later this fall, but a trend seen among external transfer students last year is likely to hold — students are changing colleges to secure a quality education in an unforgiving economy.

This academic year, CUNY’s neediest undergraduates will continue to pay no tuition, thanks to federal Pell awards and the state Tuition Assistance Program. Efforts to block a proposed cut of $845 from the maximum $5,550 Pell grant were successful. In part, critics were responding to the high default rates on Pell grants by students at for-profit, or proprietary, colleges. In fiscal year 2007, they accounted for 7 percent of Pell recipients but 44 percent of defaults, according to The Institute for College Access and Success. In contrast, students in public four-year colleges were 35 percent of Pell recipients but only 23 percent of defaults; students in public community colleges comprised 39 percent of Pell recipients and just 20 percent of defaults.

In Albany, legislation signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo maintains CUNY’s current higher-education funding level for five years. Tuition increases of up to $300 per year during that period for CUNY and SUNY were authorized, establishing a rational tuition policy for the first time. And, in a major change, CUNY and SUNY will keep the additional tuition, rather than seeing it siphoned away to state coffers, as often had occurred in the past.

A portion of the additional revenue funds the TAP tuition offset for the neediest students, while the rest will finance educational enhancements for all. There will be a full offset for students receiving the full TAP grant; students who receive partial grants will receive proportional offsets.

During the academic year 2010-2011, an estimated $770 million in combined need-based federal Pell grants and New York State Tuition Assistance Program awards went to some 170,000 City University of New York undergraduates, keeping a college education within reach for CUNY’s neediest students. As University enrollment continued its ascent to this year’s record levels, CUNY administered about $541 million in Pell grants for 139,609 recipients and $228 million in TAP awards to 100,118 students, according to the Office of Student Financial Assistance.

“A critical part of this five-year plan is that it addresses the importance of financial aid as a component of any tuition increase,” Chancellor Matthew Goldstein said at an Aug. 4 Board meeting. “So part of the revenue that the University receives from this increase is going to support students who are most at risk. The neediest students should not be impeded in their pursuit of a degree because of a tuition increase.”

A less well known source of aid is a $2,500 federal tax credit for students with higher incomes (up to $90,000 for individuals and $180,000 for married couples). The American Opportunity Credit, which can be claimed for four years at senior colleges, effectively cuts in half the new two-semester tuition rate.

The New York City government defunded the merit-based Vallone Scholarships, which for more than a decade had provided several hundred dollars of aid to students who graduated from a city public or parochial high school with a “B” average or higher and maintained a CUNY GPA of at least 3.0.

As a result of affordable tuition, grants and tax credits, most CUNY students graduate with little or no debt, compared with their peers at SUNY and private institutions. And when they do take on debt, it is for significantly smaller amounts, according to the Project on Student Debt (see www.cuny.edu/value).