Posts Tagged ‘Excelsior Scholarship’

Julia Howland, SUNY New Paltz

I am a senior at SUNY New Paltz, majoring in English and Journalism. I decided to go to a state school because it would be cheaper than any other on-campus experience I could have. Despite this, I’m still going to be in debt for quite a long time after I graduate. It’s scary to think about, especially now with having to enter the work world after a catastrophic event like the COVID-19 pandemic. Job opportunities will be scarce and my debt will only grow the longer it doesn’t get paid off. 

It is vital that we close the TAP gap, expand the excelsior scholarship, and increase state funding for SUNY/CUNY. The financial burden of tuition costs does not belong on the backs of students. Affordable higher education is essential to the future success and economic wealth of New York State. 

Sarah Russo, Hunter College

I am majoring in Sociology and pursuing a certificate in Public Policy at Hunter College. This is my last semester. I just found out that I got accepted into graduate school in Spain where I will be getting a Masters in Education. I plan on being a teacher for at least the next few years after that. I am also considering going to law school eventually, but that would be many years from now. The reason that I chose this program is because if I work at a school, my tuition fees get waived. I wish I could say the same for my time at Hunter. I am paying for my education at Hunter College with a few different merit scholarships, both private and through my program at Hunter, without which I would not be able to attend school or I would have to make the difficult decision to take out a massive loan. The rest is covered with a combination of mine and my mother’s savings. To be able to be in the position to do this is an immense privilege that I do not take lightly. Because I am from New Jersey I do not qualify for TAP, Pell, or the Excelsior Scholarship. In order to pay for textbooks, food, rent, and a MetroCard I have been working part-time every semester and full time during summer and winter breaks. I wish that I was able to qualify for these types of financial aid because it would take away the stress of a huge financial burden for me and my family. I would have more time to not worry about working and actually have moments for rest and passion projects. 

I talk to students all the time, and the biggest barriers to education that I hear every day are always finances – CUNY is an institution built for working-class people, but the rising cost of tuition is making it less and less accessible. Every semester more and more of my friends have to drop out because they can no longer afford the cost of attendance. We need a free and fully funded CUNY so that every student has the opportunity to determine their own destiny, regardless of their financial status. The ability to pursue education is a human right and must be regarded as such. I wish that the state saw CUNY for the potential it has to be an engine of equity for all students, as well as an investment in the future of our economy and society as a whole.

Ren Fox, Purchase College

My parents have been generous enough to pay for my tuition thus far—even though they have to pay for two mortgages, their cars plus mine, utility bills, and more. It’s making our already unstable financial situation worse. My mom is going to have to sell her house and move to an apartment in a less expensive city once my brother turns 18.

My parents make “too much” in salary, as high school teachers, for me or my brother to qualify for financial aid from FAFSA or need-based scholarships. In reality, we’re struggling financially.

I have transferred between colleges multiple times, between an out-of-state public college, a SUNY community college, CUNY 4-year school, and finally a SUNY 4-year school. When transferring into CUNY, I had difficulty communicating with an advisor, and they did nothing to help me get into the major I wanted. Then, once I transferred here, the first advisor I spoke to had me take two classes that I ended up not needing with my transfer credits.

If I had taken literature classes for my major instead of those unnecessary classes, I probably wouldn’t be cramming all my major requirements (as well as a gym requirement) into my last two semesters.

Seth Herendeen, Buffalo State College

I grew up mostly in upstate New York. I went to Lyons High School in Lyons, NY, which is a really small school; my graduating class was about 60 people. My career goal is to become a software developer or programmer—something along those lines—and I am taking computer science classes here at Buffalo State.

I transferred to Buffalo State from Finger Lakes Community College, which was a two-year school, and Buffalo State was one of the less expensive options for four-year colleges.

Last semester was my first semester here in Buffalo. Because my family is recognized as being in need, I get financial aid of like all stripes. I get Pell Grants and would have gotten Perkins if they hadn’t done away with that. I get TAP and Excelsior. Despite all of that—which sounds like a lot, but it’s not—there’s still money that I have to pay out-of-pocket even though my family really can’t afford it.

At Finger Lakes there were three professors that got together and wrote their own book, and that helped with textbook costs there. This semester, most of my textbooks, like three of them were under $20, but one of them was $150. It was one for my information systems class, and there was another I had that was like $90, and it was just to access an online version.

If I could just focus full-time on schoolwork I would do that, but I need money to pay for textbooks and living expenses beyond what’s covered by financial aid, so I am looking for a job.

Seth Moer, City College of NY

I’m majoring in political science and minoring in journalism. I’m part of the 1% of students that receive the Excelsior scholarship, so I have to complete 30 credits per year, which makes college more stressful by increasing my workload. I also have to stay in New York four years after my graduation, so I plan to attend graduate school. I also am a recipient of the Pell Grant and the TAP award.

I work on the weekends and have to pay for food, transportation, and books myself because I don’t receive SNAP, and I am not part of any opportunity programs. If I didn’t receive any financial aid, I would probably be in debt. I think that CUNY should be fully funded to help to support the growing student body that overwhelms public colleges because most people find it nearly impossible to attend private colleges.

More aspects of CUNY, such as maintenance of the elevators of CCNY, should also be funded. I would also appreciate a child care center on campus to provide support for students that are also parents.

Andi Bruce, SUNY Cortland

I’m a freshman at SUNY Cortland studying English and philosophy with minors in women, gender, and sexuality studies, and in economics. At this point, I don’t have a definite plan for after graduation.

I pay for school with scholarships, financial aid, and loans. I receive TAP and the Pell Grant, and I also work through the work-study program as a part of my financial aid. I use my aid to pay for some of my tuition and textbooks, and I have a meal plan. Like many other students, if I didn’t receive financial aid I would not be able to attend college.

My biggest challenge as a student has been thinking about the future. The Excelsior scholarship was not clear about how they deduct Pell and TAP grants, so my parents had to take out an extra loan right before the tuition bill was due so I could afford to go here. I’m going to have all this debt to pay off when I leave college, and that’s stressful to think about.

We need fully funded colleges because in this economy you can’t rise up without a college education, and preventing someone from receiving such an education is depriving them of equal opportunity and a chance at the life they want and deserve. I think college should be free for everyone, everywhere. Education should be a right, not a privilege. 

Suraiya Priyanka, Hunter College

I am a second semester freshman at Hunter College and currently undeclared because I’m narrowing down which major interests me most. I am trying to graduate college as soon as possible, which means I have to take 15 credits per semester, but that is very difficult when you also have to work and support your parents. I receive financial aid from TAP and Excelsior, but that only covers my tuition and Excelsior only gives me a few hundred dollars. I considered applying for ASAP since it would’ve been very helpful to me, but it is not offered at my college. I have to pay for my other expenses including textbooks, food, and transportation.

In my four people household, my dad is the only one that works full time and I work a part time job two days a week. If I decided to prioritize earning money and worked a couple extra days, I wouldn’t be able to focus on school and graduate on time. I already struggle to pay for food, textbooks, and transportation so if I didn’t receive aid to cover my tuition, I would not be able to go to college at all. In high school, I didn’t have to worry about all these things and all of a sudden, with all of this pressure being put on me, I constantly find myself trying to balance school and work and am left with no time to relax. Taking 5 classes every semester and also working is too much to handle and as a result, I am concerned that I won’t be able to do well in school or graduate on time.

We need a fully funded CUNY because many students depend on it. New York City is filled with low-income students and families who choose CUNY because it is advertised as a more affordable option, when in reality it is not. So far, my biggest challenge with being a CUNY student has been financial aid. If all my college expenses were paid for and covered by the government, I would be able to focus a lot more on my education and not have to stress about my finances. CUNY needs to be free again because New Yorkers need free public college now more than ever before.

Rebecca Garcia, Hunter College

Starting my college journey has definitely been stressful due to financial complications. I spent my freshman year of college at the University at Albany and then transferred to Hunter College my sophomore year. When I was figuring out how to pay for my freshman year tuition, I found that I was ineligible to receive full financial aid from Pell or TAP. This was difficult because my parents were not financially able to cover the rest of the University at Albany’s $14,000 annual costs.

To make matters worse, as a freshman, you are forced to live on campus your first two years and have an unlimited meal plan (which was the most expensive plan) with no way to opt-out of those choices to pick a cheaper alternative. My parents and I were then forced to take out student loans with extremely high-interest rates that I will not be able to pay off until I am in my thirties. Already in my first year, I was $30,000 in debt with student loans. I could not fathom how much debt I would be in once I graduated from there.

However, due to the introduction of the Excelsior Scholarship I was able to have my tuition paid for by the state. This is why I moved back to New York City to attend Hunter College. I can now continue my education without having to worry about paying for mandatory meal plans or dorming. I am currently a junior at Hunter College majoring in Urban Studies and hopefully double majoring in Sociology. I am still unsure of where I would want to go with my degree, however, I am hopeful for the future.

Although my story seems to have a happy ending, I know that there are thousands of students just like me who are not able to receive this scholarship or any type of aid due to these programs’ strict requirements. These students are then left to endure balancing both work and school. Allowing CUNY to be fully funded would help countless individuals. We all know that higher education is an important asset to survive in this growing economy so college needs to be financially accessible to everyone. No student should be boxed out of the Excelsior Scholarship; every student should have the same experience I’m having. And had free public college been a reality sooner, I would not be $30,000 in debt.

Sarah Zielstorf, SUNY Cortland

As a college student I knew I would have my fair share of financial issues. Applying for scholarships, grants and taking out loans can be a painful process, especially when you’re deemed not poor enough to get actual help and not rich enough to cover the expenses.

I’m a sophomore at SUNY Cortland and am currently in the BFA studying studio art but I plan on changing my major to gear more towards illustration/animation. My career goals involve working for major companies creating storyboard art for tv shows/movies or video games. As an artist I understand that right from the get go I won’t have an immediate high paying job. It’s something I will have to work hard for and I look forward to that part of my life. Furthermore as an artist, I know money will be tight but I haven’t even stepped foot into that career field yet and I’m already facing many financial struggles that I was under the impression would be taken care of.

As of right now I have received the federal Pell Grant, TAP, federal Perkins loan and other loans and I also work to get myself through school. And sadly that still isn’t enough. Due to a low credit score I am unqualified to get more loans that would pile on to my amount of debt. I couldn’t afford to pay my tuition up front so now I make monthly payments, any money I earn I can barely touch because it goes towards a $500 monthly payment plan that my mom struggles to help me with.

Any time I need to spend money or finally agree to eat out, I always check in with my mom to see if I can afford it. I report back to her any payments I made so we can keep track of our funds. The Excelsior Scholarship promised to aid those making $100,000 a year or less. I fall under that category as do many others. The Excelsior Scholarship also claimed it would cover tuition payments and as years progressed the threshold would increase so no one had to pay for college and be in debt. Sounds great right?

And it is, in theory. I understand that when any new program rolls out there are bumps in the road but my experience with the scholarship was anything but helpful. If the items on your college bill don’t have the word “tuition” in it you pay for it yourself. Though it’s true that any amount of money is helpful, the specific qualifications for the scholarship helped as little people as possible. One of my friends who received it only got $1,000. After receiving financial aid, federal aid etc and receiving the Excelsior Scholarship, I thought I was finally free of counting pennies to see if I could buy a half gallon of milk, I was wrong. The Excelsior Scholarship only allows up to $5,000 per student for solely tuition. This scholarship doesn’t include dorms, meal plans, studio fees, lab fees, athletic fees, transportation fees etc.

After going back and forth with the financial aid office (who were not given information about the Excelsior Scholarship) and the Excelsior Scholarship office for two weeks, I thought I wouldn’t be able to attend college again and I would have to stay home to work. Luckily I was able to take out a loan and work some more with the financial aid office and dip into my savings account. In the end, I chose to stick with the aid I was already receiving because it came out to more than the scholarship. But why do I have to choose?

The financial aid office also required my parents 2015 tax records, my financial situation has changed drastically in two years! Looking at recent records most likely would have helped me get more aid but that is not the way the system works. I want to study abroad so I have a savings account but on more than one occasion we’ve had to dip in to help with payments. So I work more to save more money which gets exhausting and cuts into my social life, but I wouldn’t even be able to go to college without this job so I have to keep working. Life isn’t easy, people have to make sacrifices and work hard, but college is about getting integrated into adult life slowly, not getting thrown in and suffering all the way through.

Malcom Michael, Buffalo State College

Since I was adopted from Russia by my single mother who possess a PHD in English literature, the importance of my education has been emphasized from early on in my life.   As my high school years elapsed and the daunting reality of the real world loomed over my conscience, I found myself applying to community college. To my surprise, there were a lot more hurdles I had to overcome then just an entrance exam. Despite New York State offering a wide variety of financial aid support to students, I was unable to qualify for any financial aid.  Thus, my mother and I took loans to supplement the cost of community college.

By the end of my two-year program, the debt I had accumulated was over $9000. With my Associates Degree in Criminal Justice, I transferred to Buffalo State College where I am now a senior studying Political Science. As my first year at Buffalo State waned into the past I had accumulated a loan which surpassed $20,000. During the summer prior to my senior year I moved from Buffalo State campus into an apartment close to campus.

The summer of 2017 was the beginning to a life full of relentless stress and physical pain. As bills began to pile up I found myself working full time at a local pizzeria.  Luckily for the first time I was actually able to receive financial help from the New York State government through the new Excelsior Scholarship. Which was even harder to receive than loans. Along with the hoops one has to jump through, the programs has many restrictions which have the potential of crippling students. An example of one of these restricting parameters is the required number of credits a student must take during a semester in order to receive the financial support.

Over my senior year here at Buffalo State College I have been working 40+ hours a week while being a full time student. The financial burden of living expenses such as rent, utilities, food etc., has made it increasingly difficult to focus and dedicate spare time to school. The fear of eviction and the potential of being homeless is a daunting reality for students who fully support themselves. I often find myself worrying about my finances, rather than worrying about important school assignments.