Excelsior Scholarship impact unclear as enrollment fluctuates

Did the Excelsior Scholarship work?

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the program as an effort to ease the cost of higher education in New York State. The program, which officially launched in April, saw a shorter-than-normal window for students to take advantage of it.

Some opponents felt that it could cause a flood of enrollment at various state universities and colleges across the board, adding cost or creating difficulty at the institutions.

Some of the numbers are finally easing out.

Fall 2017 was the first semester where the Excelsior Scholarship, which covered the cost of tuition. SUNY tuition is set at $6,670, which is a fraction of the total cost incurred by students heading to university in New York — but still, expectations were set optimistically high.

Documents from SUNY show that the surge in enrollment didn’t materialize.

According to the Democrat & Chronicle, who reported the shortfall from an Albany Bureau investigative effort showed that 75,000 applied for the Excelsior Scholarship. However, as of September only 22,000 had costs covered by the program.

Overall, SUNY enrollment fell by 1 percent from 2016 to 2017. Those numbers were fueled by falling numbers at the state’s community colleges. SUNY spokeswoman Holly Liapis said in a statement that the news is good, and suggested that the program is effective thus far.

“We are seeing more students seek a SUNY education,” she explained. The state noted that first-time undergrad enrollment was up 2 percent in Fall 2017.

For some that was the concern and question. Would new students take advantage of the program, or would it be dominated by those who were already enrolled?

The numbers don’t bear it out perfectly, and more than one semester of data will be necessary to make any decisions on effectiveness.

In its first year of existence, the scholarship did not reverse recent-historical trends. Over the last 5-10 years cost has soared to attend any college — community college or four-year university — while attendance has slumped as the economy improved from recession lows.

Private schools were impacted by the Excelsior Scholarship, according to the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.

Defining success of the program is something that will likely take years to determine. In the meantime, Governor Cuomo will have two battles this upcoming year, as he works to push through a better spending package for education in the budget, and campaigning for a third term.

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