N.Y. Launches Excelsior Resource After Aid Officer Concerns

August 9, 2018

Leaders of New York’s two large public higher education systems sent a letter Wednesday to financial aid officers outlining new resources for helping students navigate the free-tuition program called the Excelsior Scholarship as it enters its second year.

The letter comes the week after representatives from a group of State University of New York financial aid administrators -- the employees tasked with implementing the complex Excelsior program at colleges and universities -- asked for more guidance during a meeting of the state’s Higher Education Services Corp. Board of Trustees. That request drew sharp responses from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office and SUNY chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, with Johnson saying the financial aid administrators created unnecessary confusion and were not being productive.

Wednesday’s letter struck a more positive tone.

“To you, our leaders and financial aid professionals, we greatly appreciate your direct assistance with New York families and the students who are entering our classrooms with a dream of higher education,” says the letter, signed by Johnson and Vita C. Rabinowitz, City University of New York interim chancellor. “To help with that process, we want to draw your attention to new resources through HESC.”

The letter goes on to outline an Excelsior Scholarship Answer Center website designed for financial aid officers in response to their feedback last week. The site functions as a center for guidance provided during Excelsior’s first year. It includes bulletins, memos, a section on frequently asked questions and a six-page eligibility manual outlining key issues of student eligibility, applications and on-time completion requirements.

“We also want you to know you can contact us or members of our leadership team at any time,” the letter says. “We thank you for your hard work and look forward to our ongoing partnership to make the dream of college a reality for so many of our young people.”

Inquiries to SUNY and CUNY were referred to HESC and the governor’s office. Cuomo touts Excelsior as one of his top achievements as he runs for re-election.

“Students, their families and the people who help them are our first priority,” a Cuomo spokesman said in a statement. “We are listening to them and will continue to help in any way we can.”

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