Five weeks after the state budget has been approved, including $163 million for the Excelsior Scholarship program and questions about it remain.
Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul was at SUNY Cortland on Friday to answer those questions.
Yet questions remain. College financial aid officials said Friday they still await details to determine how much students would actually get.
“It’s not your fault the cost of an education has gotten too high,” Hochul told a room full mostly of SUNY Cortland students at Brockway Hall. She said the average amount of student debt was $30,000. “If a student wants to start a business and needs a bank loan, what bank would lend to someone with that much debt?”
Hochul and other SUNY officials have planned appearances in communities with campuses this month promoting and explaining the details of the $163 million scholarship program. She has already made appearances in Fredonia, Alfred and Buffalo.
SUNY Cortland President Eric Bitterbaum said that because of the scholarship, the number of applications for the 2017-18 academic year were at an all-time high, 11,900 applications for 1,250 openings.
“This program has brought more attention to this school,” Bitterbaum said.
The Excelsior scholarship is available to families making less than $100,00 a year for the fall of 2017. Future phases include a $110,000 income limit in 2018, and $125,000 in 2019. That’s about 80 percent of Cortland County families. The budget also includes $8 million for open educational resources, such as e-books.
Hochul said the scholarship will cover gaps left by the state Tuition Assistance Program and federal Pell grants.
Recipients must have lived in New York for at least a year, be enrolled full-time at a State University of New York or a City University of New York school, take 30 credits per school year, and be on track to graduate on time. They would also have to live and work in New York for the number of years they benefited from the program after graduation or the scholarship will convert to a no-interest loan.
The scholarship does not cover housing, meals, textbooks, transportation and other fees.
However, Bitterbaum said details remain to be worked out.
“If a student decides to leave school to join the army, we don’t know how to incorporate that yet,” Bitterbaum said. “The idea of the 0 percent loan conversion came out of talks like that.”