Excelsior Scholarship impacts SUNY Fredonia more than JCC

The Excelsior Scholarship was created to provide financial support to families in mid to low economic standing. For the State University of New York of Fredonia and Jamestown Community College, the impact varies.

The Excelsior Scholarship is a grant that closes the gap on an individual student’s tuition. That means any Federal Pell or TAP grants must be applied to one’s tuition first, and then the money from the Excelsior Scholarship can be used. Families that are eligible were only eligible if they made $100,000 or less per year for the first year of the Gov. Andrew Cuomo backed grant. In the second year, the financial ceiling for eligibility increased to $110,000 and the third year will go up to $125,000.

Since the scholarship’s implementation, Fredonia has experienced two record-setting incoming freshman classes during fall semesters of the 2017-18 and 2018-19 school years. In 2017-18, Fredonia observed an incoming class of 1,128. In 2018-19, the largest incoming class of 1,180 students was observed.

Daniel Tramuta, SUNY Fredonia vice president for enrollment services, said the increases in freshmen classes can be attributed to a variety of changes the institution made over the last three years, but a contributing factor was the Excelsior Scholarship.

“It was one of many factors,” Tramuta said.

During the 2017-18 school year, there was a total of 569 students who utilized the scholarship totaling $2.4 million. In 2018-19, the university is tracking 824 students, but Tramuta said that number will likely settle at around 800 students for a total of nearly $3.2 million.

For the upcoming fall semester of the 2019-20 school year, Tramuta said Fredonia is trending in a positive direction in hopes of hitting 4,700 in total enrollment. The fall semester for 2018-19 observed 4,657 and 4,631 in 2017-18.

“We’ve been running ahead,” Tramuta said Fredonia’s enrollment trends going into the upcoming school year.

Matters have been different at Fredonia’s neighboring school, JCC. As the institution is a community college, the impact was expected to look different than the impact at four-year schools.

“It’s a small portion of ours students,” said Jill Colburn, JCC director of financial aid, regarding the amount of students using the Excelsior Scholarship to attend the college.

In the 2017-18 school year, JCC had 90 students attend the college using the Excelsior Scholarship totaling $229,000. The same year saw 2,609 student enroll during the fall semester. In the 2018-19 school year, JCC is tracking around 100 students who are utilizing the scholarship with an estimated total of $270,000. This year observed 2,515 students enroll in classes at JCC in the fall semester.

Colburn said while students are utilizing the scholarship to attend the institution, the best parts about it are taking away from JCC’s pitch to potential students.

“Excelsior removed that cost advantage that JCC and other community colleges had over the SUNY four-year schools,” Colburn said. “Of course, we knew that going in.”

Being a “last-dollar” scholarship, Excelsior applies its funds to the remaining cost of tuition a student has to pay after other grants are considered. Essentially, more students can afford to go to a larger four-year college instead of potentially beginning at a lower cost two-year community college.

“We lost that kind of competitive edge,” said Colburn.

Overall, Colburn said it’s “far too soon” to tell what the impact has been to JCC and other community colleges. While admitting the Excelsior Scholarship is a great opportunity, she acknowledged the possibility of a negative impact it could have on JCC.

Thus far, Colburn speculated that JCC’s traditional “top students” are potentially being pulled away to larger schools. With JCC’s “calling card” being a low-cost college, Colburn said the institution recognized when the scholarship was approved that it might eventually have a negative impact.

Kirk Young, JCC vice president of enrollment management and institutional advancement, said the scholarship “hasn’t helped.” The college recently began looking at ways to address Excelsior’s pull and the additional needs of students. By the nature of Excelsior, it strictly covers the cost of tuition in a gap-elimination method. Costs for books, housing, transportation and food are not covered by the Gov. Cuomo backed scholarship.

To provide for those needs, JCC is looking at realigning some its scholarships to cover more than just tuition.

“We’ve always been targeting tuition, but a number of our students are coming here with needs outside of tuition,” Young said.