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May 18, 2017 - 10:33am

GCC ready to welcome tuition-free students, even if there are kinks to be worked out in program

posted by Howard B. Owens in GCC, schools, education, batavia, news.

Genesee Community College is ready to welcome students to campus under the state's new free-tuition plan for SUNY schools, known as the Excelsior Scholarship, said College President Jim Sunser, but implementing the program won't be without a few snags.

First, Sunser said, not all the guidelines and rules have been released yet, so school counselors have less information than is ideal for advising students. Second, the program could have a small impact on cash flow for the college.

The way the program works is, students must successfully complete two semesters of 15 credits each. The state will pay the first semester, but no payments will be released to school for both semesters until the student has successfully completed a full 30 credits.

"From a cash-flow perspective, we would have to wait until the student finishes before we’d see the dollars, so there is an eight-month lag," Sunser said.

Based on the current school population and demographics, GCC expects about 100 students to enroll in the program, and since most would be expected to successfully complete 30 credits, the negative cash flow impact is expected to be something the college can absorb.

Of course, one of the goals of the Excelsior program is to encourage more students to enroll in college, and the college is ready to embrace a higher enrollment if that's the outcome, Sunser said.

"We would very much like to see as many students as possible take advantage of it and take advantage getting an education here in New York, for sure," Sunser said.

The Excelsior program is a "last dollar in" scholarship, meaning if a student has other grants or scholarships, those would be used first to pay for tuition and Excelsior would make up the difference.

Because of the 30-credit requirement, Excelsior may not be the best option for some students who might otherwise qualify, so school counselors will work with students to help them find the best fit.

"When they come in, we’re going to individually advise them through Student Success Center and we’re going to let them know if this is the best possible avenue for them to pursue or even if campus-based scholarships might make more sense," Sunser said. "We’ll work with them one-on-one to make sure they get to where they need to be."

Sunser spoke about the scholarship program after providing the County's Ways and Means Committee with a budget update Wednesday afternoon.

The college trustees have not yet approved the budget, but it's expected that it will call for an increase in spending from $40,537,000 to $40,923,000, which Sunser noted is less than a 1-percent increase in spending. 

"On our budget, we are already cost conscious and make sure we are as responsible as we can be," Sunser said.

The county, as the sponsoring county, is required to make a sponsorship contribution to GCC's budget.

Currently, the county's contribution is about 6 percent of GCC's budget. Sunser said that's the second-lowest sponsoring county's contribution in the state.

In recent years, the amount of the county's contribution has been going up by $50,000 per year. Last year, there was some sentiment on the part of legislators that they didn't get enough time to provide input or deliberate its contribution, so there was no $50,000 increase and Sunser agreed to open up communications with legislators earlier in the process. He said he provided an update in the fall and then yesterday's appearance was made in advance of the final budget being approved.

This year, the college is asking for a $100,000 increase in county share, covering the $50,000 not provided last year and $50,000 for this year.

Sunser said the trustees are looking to approve the budget next week. The committee took no action yesterday on the request.

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