NYS Exposed: You can get free tuition if you graduate on time

April 17, 2017 11:34 PM

New York State's tuition-free program starts next September.

If you're a middle-class student, the state pays your $6,470 tuition each year. The total cost of the program for taxpayers is $163 million per year.

But nothing is totally free. If you're planning on taking advantage of the Excelsior Scholarship, there is one rule you should know about: If you don't stay on track to graduate on-time or you don't stay full-time, you could start to pay.

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"I go to the College at Brockport and I'm a senior," says Matt Farwell, College at Brockport senior.

He came to college to take history and be a teacher. But after his sophomore year, he volunteered at a camp helping people with disabilities and found out that's what he wants to do.

Brean: "So you came to Brockport thinking you wanted to do one thing."

Farwell: "Yeah."

Brean: "Then you have a life experience."

Farwell: "Absolutely."
Brean: "And you realized, I want to go in this direction."

Farwell: "Yes."

He found his calling, but instead of graduating on-time in four years, it's going to take Matt five years. If that happens to a student on the tuition-free program, the program rule says they have to pay tuition in their extra years. Monday, I got the state budget director on the phone in New York City.

Brean: "Do you think that's fair?"

Robert Mujica, NYS Budget Director: "It makes sense to stay on track and graduate on time. This gives you an incentive to that."

Here's the problem: According to SUNY, more than half of its students do not graduate on time. Just based on the numbers that means thousands of students in the tuition-free program will end up paying some tuition.

"If you have to go into the fourth or fifth year, you would have had to pay for that anyway," says Mujica.

Tom Sugar, Complete College America: "Absolutely, it's fair; it's smart."

I reached Tom Sugar at Complete College America. His group did a study which shows only 19 percent of American college students graduate on time. He says tuition-free will pressure students to graduate on time and save money.

"A two-year degree is cheaper in two years than three or four or five or six," says Sugar. "A four-year bachelor's degree is cheaper in four years than five or six."

Sugar adds, "We know from other states in the country that when you give students an incentive to take more credits, they will do it."

He says it will put pressure on the colleges too.

Brean: "What is the college and what are you doing to get students to graduate in four years?"

Thomas Chew: "Oh, that's a really great question. So that's kind of my job."

Thomas Chew is the Director of Academic Success at the College at Brockport.

"So we have transfer programs," he says. "We have free tutoring. We talk to them about it. Our advisors talk to students about getting out of here in four years.

That will save money, but even with the best students, things can change and that can take time.

"I mean obviously I would love to have my fifth year of college paid for," says Farwell. "It would be a huge help but I understand you have to draw the line at some point."

The state says there are exceptions to the rule if you get into trouble. So if you're getting tuition-free, talk to your advisor all the time.


Berkeley Brean

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