Private colleges address SUNY tuition-free plan

Jul 11, 2017

What does the state's free SUNY tuition plan mean for private schools? WBFO Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley sat down with Daemen College President Dr. Gary Olson and D'Youville College President Dr. Lorrie Clemo to discuss how they're dealing with the tuition plan—and why they opted out of the state's new Enhanced Tuition Awards.   

Not all private colleges and universities in the state have accepted the Enhanced Tuition Awards program.  Less than a third of the state's private schools recently signed up for the program.  

"For this year, we decided without all the facts on the table we could not tell our parents what the true—and our students—what the actually facts of the award were," Clemo said.

Lorrie Clemo, president, D’Youville College.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Koteras Elibol

"At Daemen College, we opted out because we thought it is not the best for our students," Olson said.

Olson and Clemo rejected the Enhanced Tuition Awards program. This was part of Governor Andrew Cuomo's effort to create college affordability. While the state's Excelsior Scholarships provide eligible students free tuition to all state schools, Cuomo also offered the Enhanced Tuition program for state residents attending private colleges. It would give students up to $6,000 in assistance. Those schools had a deadline last month to accept the program, but Olson and Clemo ‘opted out.’   

Gary Olson, president, Daemen College.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Koteras Elibol

“We were very concerned about the restrictions that were being placed on our students—the out-of-state restriction was one that we were most concerned with, and the other concern that we had—we’re very committed to being transparent with our students around our financial aid packages, upfront with our families so they can be very plan full about what portion of their aid is going to be in a loan, what portion of their aid is going to be scholarship that is not going to be required to paid back,” Clemo remarked.

“We thought that it’s much better for our students not to have all these restrictions, especially as they are beginning their career, and instead, we offer very generous tuition assistance of our own on top of the federal aid that they get and the state aid they get,” Olson stated.  

St. Bonaventure and Medaille College also ‘opted out.’ In fact, Medaille President Ken Macur had remarked the plan was a "gimmick" on part of the governor.  However, Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul told WBFO News earlier this week it's not a “gimmick.”

“It’s not a gimmick. It’s recognizing the realities of the 21st century require more people to go to college. Unfortunately, private schools have become very expensive and we encourage them to do everything they can to reduce their cost. They should participate, they should match this to give every child an opportunity,” Hochul said.

But in response, Olson questioned the structure of tuition-free and the Enhanced program.

“The governor gets to say ‘Oh, well, we’re the first state in the nation to have this free tuition program,’ but is that really true? Is it more of a gimmick and not a reality if you are only funding three or four or let’s say as much as five percent of the eligible students, but not the 95 percent that’s left.  Many of us want to wait a year to see how this all plays out,” remarked Olson.

“Understanding the value of education whether you are in the private sector or public sector, I think the Governor’s policy of trying to expand opportunities and access for all is very, very important, How we do that, though, is critical. Aid to students and giving them the option—the choice of selecting an intuition that’s best for them,” Clemo said.

WBFO Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley moderated a live Facebook discussion Tuesday on the topic featuring two local private college leaders.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Koteras Elibol

“But let’s face it, the private schools are expensive,” Buckley said.

“Well, I wouldn’t dispute that. You know, when you look at what one of our students actually pays after all of the various aid, whether it’s the aid package that the student gets, and then you look at what ends up being paid by a typical student in the one the SUNY programs, when you have a lot of fees and a very high cost of room and board, in effect, you could end up being in better shape coming to Daemen or perhaps even to D’Youville and others,” responded Olson.

“I think a lot of this conversation around college affordability is about how much is your actually degree costing you and how much are students taking out in loans and when we take a look at the loan indebtedness of our students at D’Youville College, across the state, compared to SUNY, our students, on average, have a loan indebtedness of about $25,000 when they leave D’Youville College. You know, that’s lower than the state average of $30,000,” explained Clemo.

WBFO Senior Reporter Eileen Buckley moderated a live Facebook discussion Tuesday on the topic featuring two local private college leaders.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Koteras Elibol

Canisius College, Hilbert College, Niagara University and Trocaire College all ‘opted in’ to the Enhanced Tuition Awards program.

Trocaire participated in the Facebook Live discussion, writing in the comments:

"97% of our students receive financial aid, so we recognize the importance of making higher education accessible and affordable. That’s why we opted "IN" to the ETA program. Any chance for us to build an educational environment with one less obstacle or financial challenge is incredibly important to us.”

In a news release, Canisius stated that 98 percent of its undergraduate students receive financial help and the school is dedicated to making education accessible “regardless of financial need.”

“Canisius College is dedicated to being an affordable and premier university,” says Kathleen Davis, vice president for enrollment management. 

“The college goes above and beyond to make our Catholic, Jesuit education accessible to students regardless of financial need and our No. 8 U.S. News Best Value ranking is a testament to this.  Our participation in New York’s ETA program takes this commitment one step further,” continued Davis.

Canisius said it ‘opted in’ because the Enhanced Tuition program will continue to make education accessible to those in financial need.

Canisius noted the program will also include a tuition freeze. Students who receive the funds will have tuition locked in during their eligibility period.