Assemblywoman Jenne: North Country Students Will Benefit From Free Tuition Program

April 11, 2017

Assemblywoman Addie A.E. Jenne says the North Country is home to the highest percentage of families in the state with college age students that will be eligible for free tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools.

"College affordability is a major concern, and this innovative program will be a great benefit for local students and their families," she said.

"I think it will be a tremendous incentive to help stem the brain drain from New York State and particularly the North Country," Assemblywoman Jenne added.

The 2017-18 state budget makes a substantial investment in SUNY and CUNY schools and helps expand access to higher education through scholarship and opportunity programs.

The budget also requires the Higher Education Services Corporation (HESC) to complete a college affordability study examining student loan debt relief and student loan refinancing options as well as affordability initiatives to help find ways to reduce the cost of student textbooks, transportation and housing.

"This is a good first step, but there is still much work to be done as we address college affordability. I will continue to fight to address student loan debt, an issue I understand first hand, and to look at ways we can better control non-tuition costs at our colleges and universities," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

The state budget provides funding to establish the Excelsior Scholarship, a groundbreaking, first-of-its-kind initiative to make SUNY and CUNY schools tuition-free for New Yorkers who earn less than $125,000 annually by year three of the phased in program.

Students who attend a private college in New York and earn less than $125,000 annually would also be eligible for a scholarship award of up to $6,000. The new Enhanced Tuition Award will enable students attending private not-for-profit colleges to receive financial assistance to complete their college degree.

The program provides a maximum award of $3,000, requires private colleges to provide a match and freeze student tuition for the duration of the award – maximizing the financial benefit to the student. The Enacted Budget includes $19 million for the program.

"This component of the higher education budget package was equally important. Clarkson and St. Lawrence University provide their students with a high quality education and are important players in our region's economy. It is equally important to offer students attending a private college or university an opportunity to make college more affordable as well," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

The Governor's Office has reported approximately 940,000 New York families will be eligible for the free tuition program, including 85 percent of the 18,452 families from the North Country with college-age students.

By comparison, just 56 percent of families on Long Island and 63 percent of students in the Hudson Valley will have students eligible for free tuition.

The new initiative will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

The Excelsior Scholarship will fill gaps in a student's financial aid package after Tuition Assistance Program funds and any applicable federal grants to cover the full cost of tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools.

New Yorkers must be enrolled in college full-time, averaging 30 credits per year and completing their degree on-time.

The program includes built in flexibility, allowing students to pause and restart the program, due to a hardship, or take fewer credits one semester than another.

Students must also maintain a grade point average necessary for the successful completion of their coursework. Under the program, New Yorkers will be required to live and work in-state for the number of years they received the Excelsior Scholarship.

"It is important to remember free tuition doesn't mean free college. Tuition reflects only about 25 percent of the cost of attending a SUNY school when room, board, fees and books are included," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

She said the provisions included in the free tuition program are a reminder that there is responsibility that comes with receiving the much-needed benefit.

The stipulation requiring students taking part in the program to stay and work in state following their graduation will benefit the state's economy and also can be beneficial for students, the assemblywoman suggested.

"It will be a valuable exercise in planning and responsibility. I don't think it is a bad thing that it will require students to take a hard look at their future as they look at their college options. They are going to have to think about what they are going to do in the future before they spend a lot of money on college," she noted.

Assemblywoman Jenne said students in St. Lawrence and Jefferson counties could also benefit from having SUNY Potsdam, SUNY Canton and Jefferson Community College located in their communities.

"Many students in our region choose to commute to college to lower the cost of this education. This free tuition program will greatly benefit that effort," she said.

The assemblywoman said she has long fought for college affordability and believes the free tuition program is long overdue. She noted there had been free tuition at SUNY schools in the early years of the system.

"There was a day a generation or two ago when a high school graduate could get a diploma one day and find a good paying job at a paper plant or aluminum plant in the North Country literally the next day," Assemblywoman Jenne said.

"Those days are gone and changes in our economy mean more and more of our jobs with living wages require a college education," she said.

"We know the income disparity between those with college degrees and those with high school degrees continues to grow," according to the assemblywoman.

"This program will mean students from hard working families in the North Country and around the state can attend public colleges and universities tuition free, helping even more young people make their college dreams come true,” she said.

The budget also includes $100 million for SUNY and $60 million for CUNY in capital funding for maintenance and expansion purposes.

Further, the state budget allocates $450 million for SUNY and $224 million for CUNY for critical maintenance. To help students and their families meet the rising, non-tuition costs of college, the budget includes $8 million to help SUNY and CUNY develop online educational resources to help alleviate the high cost of textbooks for students.

To ensure community colleges can continue helping its students get ahead, the budget allocates $6.2 million to SUNY community colleges and $3.1 million to CUNY community colleges for an increase of $50 per full-time equivalent (FTE) student, for a total of $2,747 per FTE student.

The budget also includes $3.1 million for a new scholarship program for part-time students attending SUNY or CUNY community colleges so students with family or other responsibilities can finish school on their own schedules.

The budget restores $1.5 million in funding for SUNY GAP to help provide remediation to community college students. The budget also restores $1.1 million to SUNY child care centers.

Supporting Opportunity Programs

The 2017-18 state budget restores $23.8 million for opportunity programs:

  • Higher Education Opportunity Program (HEOP): $35.5 million, a restoration of $5.9 million;
  • Educational Opportunity Program (EOP): $32.2 million, a restoration of $5.3 million;
  • Search for Education, Elevation and Knowledge program (SEEK): $28.1 million, a restoration of $4.6 million;
  • Liberty Partnerships: $18.4 million, a restoration of $3 million;
  • Science and Technology Entry Program (STEP): $15.8 million, a restoration of $2.6 million;
  • Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP): $11.9 million, a restoration of $1.9 million; and
  • College Discovery Program: $1.3 million, a restoration of $225,000.

The recently adopted state budget also includes a generous Maintenance of Effort to assist in meeting the operational needs of SUNY and CUNY.

At the state’s direction, SUNY and CUNY will use this funding to target high-enrollment courses, including general education, to maximize student savings.