New York's middle-class scholarship program criticized

In 2017, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo was proud to launch a program offering tuition-free education at New York's public universities and colleges. It is called the Excelsior Scholarship for middle-class students.

But full-time accounting student Razieh Arabi said the financial aid program is not what it is cracked up to be.

"The message that was conveyed was millions of New York State residents would be receiving free tuition to attend public school but that was not the case," she said.

Arabi is a transfer student to Baruch College, which is a CUNY school, and it will take her five years instead of four to get her degree. She applied for the financial scholarship money but was denied because she is not on track to graduate a four-year program in four years.

  • In order to qualify for the free-tuition program, students must graduate in four years.
  • They have to carry 30 credits per year.
  • Their annual family income must be less than $110,000.
  • The scholarship money can only be used for tuition, not for living expenses or books.
  • The GPA requirement varies depending on the major.
  • Applicants are also required to live and work in New York when they leave school for the number of years they received the scholarship money. If they don't, they have to pay the money back.

"It's actually very misleading and it's very clear at this point that it's very misleading," Arabi said.

An analysis by a think tank the Center for an Urban Future concludes that about 70 percent of the students who applied were rejected. The center also criticizes the Cuomo administration for exaggerating how many students could benefit from the program.

But the governor's office is pushing back and called the analysis flawed. The administration released these numbers:

  • In 2017, about 95,000 students applied.
  • Approximately 46,000 were eligible.
  • About 22,000 actually needed the financial aid.
  • The remaining students already had tuition covered by other financial aid programs.