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Statewide college applications up, as tuition-free programs take hold

The prospect of going to college for little or no money is paying off for SUNY and CUNY, with statewide applications up - a lot.

Applications for SUNY's four-year colleges are up 9 percent, while CUNY applications are up 11 percent. Gov. Andrew Cuomo says his Excelsior Scholarships are responsible.

SUNY leaders do see some connection, although the connection may be more families realizing there are ways to get their kids into college toward the degree considered essential for the future.

Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner says her applications are up 15 percent for next year. Conway-Turner says education is essential and programs like Excelsior are making it possible.

"Education really transforms lives and we have many of our students that are the first-generation college educated," she says, "and so, absolutely, our student body are the kind of students that represent much of the State of New York and where public education is a real, viable, affordable possibility for them."

Conway-Turner says she knows from being first generation in her family to go to college how difficult the finances can be.

At Fredonia State College, applications are up 20 percent. Associate Vice President Daniel Tramuta says the application increase reflects the college making a big push for students on home territory in Western New York and having a full-time recruiter in New York City. For longer-term recruiting, Fredonia is running a higher education program in high schools to convince them college is the way to go.

"That we can bring in to middle schoolers to high schoolers. Like we said, there's so much press about debt at graduation, about cost and affordability, the rising price of tuition, the rising price of college, fees, all the hidden costs and the governor has made a commitment that if you go to a SUNY or a CUNY, we're going to invest in you."

Tramuta says the array of grants and scholarships out there mean any high schooler with a family annual income below $110,000 can probably go to school for free, although with Excelsior they do have to stay in the state for some years after graduation.

Mike Desmond is one of Western New York’s most experienced reporters, having spent nearly a half-century covering the region for newspapers, television stations and public radio. He has been with WBFO and its predecessor, WNED-AM, since 1988. As a reporter for WBFO, he has covered literally thousands of stories involving education, science, business, the environment and many other issues. Mike has been a long-time theater reviewer for a variety of publications and was formerly a part-time reporter for The New York Times.
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