Some SUNY-ESF students are concerned about the effects of free college tuition

Kali Bowden | Staff Photographer

Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation to make tuition free for in-state students at State University of New York and City University of New York schools last week.

Students at SUNY-ESF have offered mixed reactions to New York state’s plan to make tuition free at public colleges, including SUNY-ESF.

The Excelsior Scholarship is New York state Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make tuition free for in-state students at State University of New York and City University of New York schools. The scholarship plan was passed as part of the state’s budget on April 8 and some SUNY-Environmental Science and Forestry students are concerned about the scholarship’s potential effects.

“(The Excelsior Scholarship) really is a win for students,” said Ben Taylor, president of SUNY-ESF’s Undergraduate Student Association. But, he added, “I think a lot of people are looking at this scholarship and thinking … ‘What does that mean for taxpayers, what does that mean for the state, what does that mean for all of my friends who are out of state, and also, what does that mean for my life after graduation?’”

Tuition is one of several expenses SUNY-ESF students must pay to attend the college. In-state tuition at SUNY-ESF is $3,235 per semester, but room and board in the Centennial Hall dorm costs $4,030 per semester, and dining hall meal plans range in price from $3,370 to $4,025 per semester.

This means that for an in-state student living in the dorms and paying for a 10-per-week meal plan, tuition is less than one-third of the total cost of attendance.

“It’s not like we’re all going to be jumping around, happy, with free everything here because it is only tuition,” Taylor said.

The Excelsior Scholarship will apply to any New York state resident attending a SUNY or CUNY school whose family makes less than $125,000 per year. About 76 percent of New York families would be financially eligible for the scholarship, according to the governor’s website.

Each recipient of the scholarship must maintain a grade-point average high enough for “the successful completion of their coursework,” according to the governor’s website. In addition, each student who is awarded the scholarship must stay and work in New York after graduation for the same number of years they received the scholarship.

Some students said the residency requirement was not a problem for them.

Ben Russ IV, a bioprocess engineering major at SUNY-ESF, said his Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics Incentive scholarship, which is awarded to New York students in the top ten percent of their graduating classes, already requires recipients to stay in New York state for five years after graduation.

“You have to give to get … they want to educate you, but also utilize you as well,” Russ said. “It’s a trade-off, but I feel like it’s worth it.”

The Excelsior Scholarship also mandates that students must take at least 30 credits each school year they receive the free tuition.

Maria Alfaro, a sophomore aquatic and fisheries science major at SUNY-ESF, said she would qualify for the scholarship financially, but the credit requirement might prevent her from accepting it.

Other students were concerned that in-state students would flood the SUNY system due to the lowered costs, making applications more competitive.

“I think (the Excelsior Scholarship) is just going to wreck the SUNY system, actually,” said Erin Cuddihy, a sophomore environmental resources engineering major at SUNY-ESF. “A lot of people are going to have free tuition, so they’ll want to get in there. But … (SUNY-ESF has) a set number of people that we can take without, like, exploding.”

The scholarship would not apply to all students at SUNY-ESF — only those who are from New York state would qualify. Out-of-state students at SUNY-ESF pay $8,160 in tuition, more than twice what New York residents pay.

Sarah Fioramonti, a sophomore wildlife science major who is not from New York, said she thinks the new scholarship might drive down applications from out-of-state students, decreasing the geographical diversity at SUNY schools.

Taylor, the Undergraduate Student Association president, said, though, that this scholarship won’t change much for out-of-state students.

“(If you’re an out-of-state student) you’re not a taxpayer, so you don’t necessarily get the benefits of having that lowered tuition,” Taylor said. “Hopefully other states will be able to replicate (the Excelsior Scholarship) so that it’s not just New York state residents who are the only people in the country that are getting free college tuition.”

While he supports the scholarship plan and the progress it represents in dealing with student debt, Taylor said he believes there is still much to be done to improve the SUNY system. SUNY schools, he said, are in desperate need of investment for new buildings, better mental health services and greater accessibility for students with disabilities.

“The governor is giving plenty of … action towards higher education, which is excellent, but there are a lot of other things that SUNY campuses are struggling with.” Taylor said. “We really need to continue to advocate for these issues on a SUNY-level and on a state-level.”


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