NY Passes Free College Tuition Program, SUNY Plattsburgh President Applauds It

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The President of SUNY Plattsburgh is applauding lawmakers in Albany for approving a free tuition program for income eligible New Yorkers.

According to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office, the North Country is home to 18,542 families with college-age students who would be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship Program.

“I think it’s a good idea,” said Kiley Decastro, a junior at SUNY Plattsburgh. “I think everyone deserves the opportunity to get an education. If you can’t afford one, that hinders your ability to go far in the future.”

“I think it’s unfair for the people who are like in their junior year or senior year leaving college in debt and was not able to have the option to go to school for free,” said Ejani Winn, a senior at SUNY Plattsburgh.

New York’s Excelsior Scholarship Program passed the Senate and Assembly this weekend.

It allows income eligible students from New York to attend public colleges and universities in the state tuition-free.

The program will be phased in over three years.

In fall 2017, the income eligibility for a family or individual is up to $100,000 per year. It jumps to $110,000 per year in 2018 and $125,000 per year in 2019.

SUNY Plattsburgh President John Ettling says 1,200 current students would have qualified for the first phase if the program was in place now.

He says more than 80% of his students pay for their education with financial aid.

“It’s an amazingly good day for the young men and women graduating from New York high schools now and for their families and for their parents,” said Ettling. “I’m so proud to work in a state in which the governor and the legislature realize the value of a college education.”

To participate in the program, students must be enrolled full time in college, earn 30 credits a year and maintain a GPA necessary for the successful completion of their coursework.

They also are required to live and work in New York for the same number of years after graduation as they received the scholarship.

“We’re interested to know exactly what that means,” said Ettling, citing enrollment in out-of-state ROTC as a possible conflict.

President Ettling is also unsure how the finances will work.

“It starts right away so it has to be determined soon. It kicks off in four months, the beginning of the fall semester,” said Ettling.

He says the SUNY Plattsburgh budget will “probably” be affected.

However, he thinks that could be offset by a boost in enrollment.

There are currently 5,400 undergraduate students at SUNY Plattsburgh, down from 6,200 undergrads 6-7 years ago, according to Ettling.

“We have room for them. We would love them to come here,” said Ettling.

Room and board is not included in the Excelsior program.

Local 22 & Local 44 News has reached out to Governor Cuomo’s press office to see how the state will pay for the program. We have, so far, been unable to connect.

According to a press release from the press office, “The Excelsior Scholarship is a ‘last mile’ program, which extends the state’s existing generous aid programs, including the nearly $1 billion Tuition Assistance Program and any applicable federal grants, and fills in any remaining gaps to cover the full cost of tuition.”

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