Free tuition at New York’s SUNY and CUNY colleges if you qualify for Excelsior Scholarship by Lindy Madill

Governor Andrew M. Cuomo announced that the Excelsior Scholarship, will provide tuition-free college at New York’s public colleges and universities (CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges in New York State) to families making up to $125,000 a year, and is included in the FY 2018 Budget agreement. To qualify for an Excelsior Scholarship, students must be a resident of New York and be on track to complete their chosen degree in two or four years.

The program would cover tuition for eligible SUNY and CUNY students. Resident undergraduate tuition at SUNY’s four-year colleges is currently $6,470. SUNY community college tuition is currently for $4,366, on average.

It does not cover room and board, books and mandatory fees, which can cost students up to twice as much as the $6,470 a year in tuition costs at the State University system, and $6,330 at the City University system.

There a lot of questions that I have about this program. For example are the PELL GRANTS and TAP awards still used if the student qualifies for a Excelsior scholarship. For example if you qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship do you also still qualify for TAP? New York State TAP is to be used for tuition only. Therefore how would TAP be applied to the student’s bill?
According to’s web site, the funding for the award fully covers the cost of tuition after TAP, Pell and other financial aid awards are applied. However this was stated on their web site prior to the bill actually being passed.
Also if this accurate than it may not be much of a program if a student’s Pell Grant has to be applied first prior to the Scholarship going into effect. This is because a Pell Grant currently can be used for expenses besides tuition such as room and board, books and mandatory fees. Therefore it should not be used to decrease the tuition cost. It should be saved for the student’s other expenses. The Pell Grant program, is one of the few forms of financial aid that is considered to be first dollar. The Pell Grant is never reduced when a student wins a private scholarship, not even if the student is overawarded. The Pell Grant is based on the student’s EFC, not financial need, so changes in financial need do not affect the amount of the Pell Grant. (While the Pell Grant is not based on financial need, it is capped at the difference between the cost of attendance and the EFC. But the receipt of non-federal student financial aid funds does not reduce the amount of the Pell Grant.)

As I find out the answers to the these questions I will post them here.

To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit

How to qualify for NY TAP if your parents are separated but still filing a joint income tax return by Lindy Madill

Applying to college and even filing out the FAFSA can be stressful enough let alone knowing all of the rules of other available aid in New York.

The New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) helps eligible New York residents attending in-state postsecondary institutions pay for tuition. Depending on the academic year in which you began study, an annual TAP award can be as high as $5,165. One of the requirements to be eligible for TAP as a dependent student is that your parents make under a certain amount of income per year. This can be confusing and difficult to prove if your parents are separated but still filing joint income tax returns. For example if your parents are separated you would want to only have HESC calculate the income of the parent that you live with to determine eligibility. If your parents are separated but still filing joint income tax returns because their divorce is not finalized than you have to submit the income as it is listed on the joint income tax return on your TAP application. However this is not accurate because you only lived with one parent that received only a portion of the income listed on the income tax form. On the TAP application it appears that your household made more income than it actually did. Below is the explanation given by HESC on how to handle this situation.

Separated/Divorced Individuals Filing Joint Tax Returns:

Applicants and/or the parents of financially dependent students who were separated or divorced after December 31 should report the actual income data filed on the return on the application for payment when filing out the TAP application. HESC will send an inquiry letter to determine applicant’s or custodial parent’s share of joint income. HESC will then calculate the award based on applicants’ /custodial parent’s income and a prorated amount of separated/divorced spouses’ income.
Applicants and/or the parents of financially dependent students who were separated or divorced on or before December 31 should report the applicant’s and/or custodial parent’s share of joint income on the application for payment. HESC will initially calculate the award on this income. To avoid the possibility that the award will later be recalculated based on joint income as a result of income verification, applicants who have submitted an application early in the year should, by July 1, submit a letter explaining the situation under separate cover. Applicants should include appropriate tax documentation– W2s, returns, proof of separate residence, etc. with the letter. If applicants have applied later in the year and are therefore unable to provide documentation before income verification, HESC will have to adjust the award through the income verification appeal process.
HESC calculates TAP and STAP awards by adding the income of all family members whose income is required to be reported.

You can view the HESC website with this information here