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Private schools critical of details of SUNY tuition-free plan

WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Two private colleges in Buffalo are reacting to the new tuition-free Excelsior Scholarships for all SUNY/CUNY colleges and universities. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley talked with the leaders of D'Youville and Medaille. 

“This will not have an adverse effect on Medaille College,” said President Kenneth Macur.

Macur tells WBFO there are some "gotcha moments" in the fine print of the scholarship plan for the SUNY schools and students should be aware.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Kenneth Macur, Medaille President, offers reaction to tuition free plan for state schools.

“Oh there are a lot of 'gotcha moments' built into this. If you don’t get the right grade, your Excelsior Scholarship turns into a loan, so there’s a lot of fine print that happens after the fact in this proposal,” remarked Macur.

Over the weekend state lawmakers approved a new budget. It includes scholarships for families making $125,000 or less per year. The fine print of the program indicates students who will receive those scholarship dollars must remain in New York State after graduating for the same number of years they received the tuition. If they leave the state, they would be required to pay the money back.

But lawmakers also included an Enhanced Tuition Assistance Plan (TAP) for private schools. Eligibility will increase for private school families earning $100,000 a year for this fall and increase in the following years.

“The biggest challenge actually will be to explain the programs to students. The governor wants this all to happen by fall of 2017,” explained Macur. 

“My first reaction was more or less, where’s the money really going to come from?,” said Latrice Parara, a second-year student at Medaille College.   

Latrice Parara, second year student at Medaille College.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

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Parara already receives some partial scholarship dollars from Say Yes Buffalo so the tuition plan would not affect her, but she said it's only fair private schools get the needed financial aid to assist other students.

“As long as they are able to provide like private schools with more funding for students and more scholarships and grants for them, then it’s a great program. But if it doesn’t, then it going to fail and create problems for private schools,” responded Parara.

“We are concerned with what the impact will be on the student’s ability more than anything else,” stated Dr. Lorrie Clemo, President of D'Youville College.

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
Dr. Lorrie Clemo, President of D'Youville College.

Clemo tells WBFO News the tuition-free plan will create challenges for private colleges and students.

“Right now we’re not thinking that it is going to be an enrollment challenge because of the increase in TAP across the board. This actually gives students more aid to be able to access higher education. We have strong programs that we’re confident are going to continue to attract students, and interesting enough, through the whole conversation we have been having in New York State about the possibility of free tuition, what we’ve actually seen and have happen at D’Youville is that we have had more students apply and more deposits,” said Clemo.

As for the challenges ahead at D’Youville, Clemo said the major concern is to make sure they are meeting the needs of their students.

“We want to make sure we are going to get information out to our students that really clarifies for them what exactly the Excelsior Scholarship. What the Enhance TAP program is and how it will affect them beginning this fall," remarked Clemo.   

Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley
D'Youville College campus.

Both college leaders tell WBFO they believe it will come down to a families choose of wanting a private school education and the advantage of smaller class sizes.

Medaille and D'Youville will working over the next few months to sort out all the eligibility requirement information for their students in order to prepare for the start of school this fall.    

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