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Students leave more than half of $3.1M in scholarship money on table

State and local college officials hope to get more to apply for the part-time scholarship, which is need-based and covers the cost of six credit hours, or $1,500 per term, whichever is less.

Less than half of the $3.1 million allocated

Less than half of the $3.1 million allocated for a part-time scholarship for students attending the state's community college, including the Brentwood campus of Suffolk Community College, was distributed.  Photo Credit: Danielle Silverman

More than half of the $3.1 million set aside for the New York Part-Time Scholarship in the 2017-18 school year went unused — mainly due to a lack of awareness and because the plan was rolled out retroactively, students and education officials said.

Fewer than 100 of the 20,690 part-time students attending community college on Long Island received the scholarship, according to data from Nassau and Suffolk county community colleges.

The need-based scholarship encourages students to take more courses than they otherwise might have been able to afford, said Sandra Friedman, Nassau Community College associate vice president of Student Financial Affairs. “It’s a great resource for students that may not be able to cover the cost of tuition on their own,” she said.

The scholarship covers the cost of six credit hours, or $1,500 per term, whichever is less, for students attending a State University of New York or City University of New York community college. Students must be a state resident, enrolled in at least six but less than 12 credits each term, and maintain at least a 2.0 grade-point average. Priority is given to those who qualify for things such as federal aid.

Not as highly publicized as Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's signature full-time Excelsior Scholarship, the scholarship was rolled out retroactively during the spring semester. That meant students had to pay up front, and many are still being reimbursed for last school year, college officials said.

The college's financial services department sent an announcement to students at the opening of the application period last spring, Friedman said, but, "We didn’t have as high a response as we had hoped.”

Student response is expected to be better this school year, with both the state agency and community colleges advertising the award, school officials said.

“This scholarship could definitely use some advertising,” said Kristen Quere, who is Student Government Association president of Suffolk County Community College's Michael J. Grant Campus in Brentwood.

It will help now that students will not have to pay up front and wait to be reimbursed, said Quere, 19, of Commack, a sophomore who also serves as SUNY Student Assembly deputy director of campus safety.

The scholarship was included in the state budget to complement the Excelsior Scholarship, which starting in fall 2017 began providing tuition dollars for full-time, middle-class students attending the state’s two- and four-year colleges. Additional costs, such as housing, transportation, fees and books, are not covered by either award.

State education officials rushed to roll out Excelsior in time for the fall 2017 semester, writing regulations, creating an application process and notifying award recipients — a process that garnered some criticism as it extended into the school year.

During that time, the Higher Education Services Corp., the state entity that administers the program, also was rolling out the Enhanced Tuition Award, which provides funding to students at private institutions. There wasn't much public discussion on the part-time scholarship until January, when the state said it would roll out the scholarship retroactively.

College administrators are working with the Higher Education Services Corp. to certify and award recipients. A total of $1.2 million was awarded to students for the 2017-18 school year, Cuomo spokesman Don Kaplan said in an email. “We expect the program to be fully subscribed in the current academic year.”

Students will be compensated for their 2017-18 award through a credit or reimbursement by their respective schools, he said.

There were 307 eligible applicants for the part-time scholarship statewide for fall 2017, Kaplan said. The total number of students receiving the award retroactively and the number of applicants for this school year are not yet available, according to the governor’s office.

Last school year, there were 97,139 students attending SUNY community colleges part time and 36,924 part-time students at CUNY community colleges, according to state and city university system data.

On Long Island, 56 students are slated to receive the award retroactively for the 2017-18 school year — 25 at Nassau Community College for a total of $50,510, and 31 at Suffolk County Community College for $53,591, college officials said.

Suffolk had 58 students approved by the state, but some were later deemed ineligible due, for example, to changes in their enrollment status, according to the college.

The Higher Education Services Corp. launched a website over the summer to help generate awareness about the scholarships for the 2018-19 school year, according to the governor's office. The site compiles the necessary forms, webinars and other information, for students and financial aid officers.

Nassau plans to put a new emphasis on the award, adding information on digital and social media platforms, college spokeswoman Kate Murray said. Financial aid counselors also will continue to advise students on the award at both Nassau and Suffolk.

Students of all ages attend college on a part-time basis for a variety of reasons and it’s “incredibly important” to make sure they have access to financial aid opportunities, said Michael Braun, 23, an Elmont native and president of the SUNY Student Assembly.

“The NYS part-time scholarship award program can be integral to providing the financial assistance these students need to stay in college and complete their degree,” he said. “Moving forward, SUNY and New York State should continue to partner to promote and market these aid opportunities so it can benefit even more part-time students."

CORRECTION

A headline on a previous version of this story misstated the amount of New York State Part-Time Scholarship dollars left unused.

By the Numbers

Part-time students attending SUNY and CUNY community colleges starting in 2017-18 could apply for $3.1 million through the state. On Long Island, 56 students were certified to receive the award. The state still is working with colleges to certify award recipients, so numbers are subject to change.

  • $1.2 million was awarded to students statewide.
  • $50,510 is expected to go to 25 Nassau Community College students for 2017-18.
  • $53,591 has been disbursed to 31 Suffolk County Community College students for 2017-18.
  • 36 Suffolk students to date have been approved to receive the award for 2018-19.
  • 21 Nassau students to date have been approved for 2018-19.

Source: Nassau and Suffolk County community college officials

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