June 19, 2017 | University Life

By Emily Tai 

Graduation may be past, and future freshmen may already be anticipating their first college courses this fall. But it’s scholarship season in New York, where Governor Andrew Cuomo’s new Excelsior scholarship has opened its first application period, active until July 21.

The response has been overwhelming: over 21,000 applications in the first week. Many of the first round of applicants, according to Inside Higher Ed, were prospective CUNY students, undeterred by the Excelsior’s many requirements:

  • finish 30 credits each academic year, exclusive of any remedial courses a student may be required to take;
  • live and work in New York State for five years past college graduation, or see the scholarship turn into a loan that students will have to repay.

The list of scholarship specifications is sufficiently complex that CUNY has established a “Frequently Asked Questions” page for student reference. And CUNYStart, a program recently praised by New York Times Education columnist David Kirp, can help students avoid commitments to lengthy remediation courses. But the number of stipulations that hedge this last-dollar-in scholarship has many in New York higher education concerned that the Excelsior scholarship may not be as generous as it initially sounded—and that many of the students who apply, or who are in need, will not be eligible.

Springtime for For-Profit Colleges?

As the long, hot summer begins, the Department of Education, headed by Betsy DeVos, has announced plans to reevaluate and roll back many of the restrictions placed on for-profit colleges by the Obama administration—requirements that protect student borrowers and hold vocational colleges accountable if they fail to place their graduates. The borrower protection provisions, which allow students to obtain a discharge from their loans, have also stirred apprehension among smaller colleges that draw enrollment from first-generation college students. Secretary DeVos is in receipt of a joint letter from the United Negro College Fund and the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education that has requested involvement in the reevaluation process for that reason. Critics, meanwhile, are concerned that the Trump administration may be advancing the interests of for-profit education—which maintains lobbies in Washington—over the needs of financially-strapped students who fail to secure the job that was promised, and can’t pay their loans.

Adding it all up

Even if the recipient of an Excelsior scholarship winds up leaving the state and owing the cost of their college scholarship to New York State, that CUNY or SUNY graduate will still have received a first-rate liberal arts education from one of New York’s finest public colleges. But that’s not always the case for graduates of for-profit colleges, who’ve often paid a lot for an education that won’t get them very far.

A college loan is worth the investment if the borrower receives value for their money.

Kudos to CUNY students for doing the math—and applying for the Excelsior Scholarship.

The UFS is wishing them all the best of luck.

#ExcelsiorNY #ForProfitColleges

Emily S. Tai is a professor of History at Queensborough Community College who serves on the UFS Executive Committee, and edits the UFS Blog.
The UFS Blog is a forum for CUNY Faculty, and welcomes the expression of all points of view.

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Image credit: Joel, Money leis…wonderful graduation gift!, Attribution-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-ND 2.0).