Nothing is Free: Including Tuition

Nothing in this World is Free: Including Tuition

By, Evan G. Founder of The College Confidence Coach.

The Excelsior Scholarship, recently implemented by Governor Cuomo and New York State, has students and parents throughout the state in hysteria waiting on more details and qualifying standards. The concept of the scholarship is indeed a noble and well warranted thought, however, as we get closer to its official unveiling, many details are now being revealed that may turn the Excelsior Scholarship’s outstanding public advocacy, to one far less hopeful.

The most widely known consequence to accepting the Excelsior Scholarship is the commitment from the student to work within New York State for as many years as they were the beneficiary of the free tuition. This in itself is a concerning component for students, given the mindset of most 16-17 year olds is to venture out of their home towns; whether it be for college or thereafter. What should be as concerning for parents, is that many students who will accept the scholarship will be asked to have a parent cosign for the term that if the student decides to leave the state anyway, the scholarship will automatically convert into a loan (with interest), that the student and parent are now on the hook for.

Along with the “leaving-NYS-state clause”, there are many other standards within the Excelsior contract that can quickly turn “free tuition” into a loaded loan.


Though the final number has not yet been affirmed, the scholarship will come with a GPA requirement that will be at the very least, ambitious, for most college freshman to obtain. The early speculation is that Excelsior students will need to obtain a minimum 3.0 GPA throughout their time “succored” by the scholarship. Though most parents would expect grades of this caliber from their children, and students may see this as an easy goal, the statistics prove otherwise. A college student’s freshman year, especially those living on-campus, away from home for the first time, is almost always the lowest that they will academically achieve throughout their academic life. If at any point, a student fails to maintain the GPA requirement of the scholarship, the excelsior automatically converts into a loan, and is not applicable again throughout the student’s collegiate journey. The chart below shows the average GRADUATING GPA of a variety of common majors (meaning they've had time to recover from commonly disastrous starts).


In conjunction with the GPA requirements, recipients of the scholarship must also maintain a 30 credit per year course load to stay eligible for the reward. Throughout the United States, the 6-year graduation rate has become the norm, with many students and parents expecting that it will take that amount of time. As quoted by the National Center for Educational Statistics, “The 6-year graduation rate for first-time, full-time undergraduate students who began their pursuit of a bachelor's degree at a 4-year degree-granting institution in fall 2008 was 60 percent. That is, 60 percent of first-time, full-time students who began seeking a bachelor's degree at a 4-year institution in fall 2008 completed the degree at that institution by 2014. The 6-year graduation rate was 58 percent at public institutions, 65 percent at private nonprofit institutions, and 27 percent at private for-profit institutions.” That number has steadily increased in the years since. Again, if at any point, a student drops a course, changes major, or makes any type of plan variation that drops them out of the 30 credit per year course term, the Scholarship automatically converts into a loan and is not applicable again throughout the collegiate journey of the student.


The focus of reform in higher education should have never been on the cost of school, but rather the crippling fact that it is taking our students too long to graduate, and even when they do, the more harmful pain that they have absolutely no idea what to do with the degree that they have just invested tuition, sweat, blood, and tears to obtain. There is simply no direction.

New York State knows that the requirements of the Excelsior Scholarship will be a reach for more than 90% of those who will apply for it. Still, they seem very little to care about the impact that it will have for those who do not qualify for the financial portion of the Scholarship from the outset.

The University of Buffalo, already known for its tremendous ROI, for the low investment it costs in-state residents, is expecting an increase of up to 25% more applicants now that the Scholarship has been announced. The concern is that with so many applicants already, the University, for the first time in its existence, will have to implement a wait-list for many majors that qualifying students previously bargain for getting into and receive a more than quality education for a price that would not break the bank.  With many SUNY schools expecting similar increases in applications, we could see the most competitive application process in the history of higher education because so many students who may not have considered colleges as options due to tuition, now will apply for the heck of it. With the expectation set that the financial household income baseline to meet the requirements could increase up to $225,000 over the next few years, this will only become an even greater obstacle for students who desire to attend SUNY colleges.


The solution? Internal Self-Validation™. With graduation rates increasing and retention rates continuing to decline, ALL colleges, not just SUNY programs, are longing for applicants who are confident in their reasoning for applying to the school with conviction in their major and plans.

Imagine for a moment that you are a college admissions counselor at a SUNY school. You have an influx of applications to get through like you’ve never seen before and your mindlessly scanning GPA’s, SAT Scores, and attempting to get through thousands of personal essays, from students writing about “how great they are”.

You’ve been through about two thousand cloned applications when you come across one that reads:

I know I am a crowning candidate for ABC university because I am self-aware enough to have researched many different programs and know that I need a program that is qualitatively (or quantitatively), based and taught in a way that is applicable for me to obtain my dream of becoming a “insert career interest”. I feel that the course structure and core-root of the “insert major”, degree are a perfect match for my conative instincts and affective motivation and that I would be proud to be an alumnus of ABC in four years, or even, less.”

With the academic achievement to back up a statement like this, you would be hard pressed to not send a candidate like that to the top of the list, bypassing new candidates and placing this student in a strong consideration for high merit scholarships, that may replace the desire to even contemplate applying for the Excelsior Scholarship at all.

In certain cases, the Excelsior Scholarship will be a tremendous asset and give students and families opportunities they may have once never thought possible. There is no denying the fact that free tuition will be an illustrious achievement for Governor Cuomo and the State of New York. However, until we solve the core problems that surely undermine the reasoning of many students’ pursuit of higher education, I believe that this will initially add to the overwhelming majority’s frustration.