State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras announced today the elimination of application fees for high school seniors from low-income households applying to SUNY campuses. Beginning on March 1, students who financially qualify for free or reduced-price lunch programs, whose household income does not exceed 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, or are from foster families are eligible to apply to up to seven SUNY campuses through www.suny.edu/start, saving up to $350 in application fees per student.
The current application waiver process created many barriers for low-income students. Currently, a student may seek a waiver if a school guidance counselor signs off or if the student submits a separate waiver with family financial information. This has barred many eligible students from participating in the program.
First, according to a study from the National Bureau of Economic Research, students who are eligible for fee waivers are often deterred from even applying to college due burdensome multiple steps to prove eligibility, as well as misunderstanding or confusion about eligibility for fee waivers.
Second, of those low-income students that have applied to a SUNY campus and are eligible for an application fee waiver, approximately only 50 percent take advantage of the program, leaving eligible students to pay costs not owed.
SUNY’s waiver is now automatic to those eligible individuals without a need for additional paperwork or waiver applications. An estimated 110,000 seniors would be eligible for SUNY’s automatic application fee waiver. Students with any questions about the application process may schedule one-on-one admission help through the same website at www.suny.edu/start.
The announcement was made today from the Thomas R. Proctor High School in Utica with Superintendent Bruce Karam, Principal Joshua Gifford, SUNY Polytechnic Institute Acting President Tod Laursen, and New York State Office of General Services Commissioner RoAnn Destito.
“Too many barriers from food insecurity to fees stand in the way of many qualified students—from low-income and communities of color—and a college education. We must do everything we can to break down barriers and empower students no matter their economic status or background, especially as a vast majority of all new jobs created requires some post-secondary education,” said Chancellor Malatras. “As application data have shown, the pandemic has exacerbated this problem with declining applications dropping most amongst low-income or communities of color. Higher education’s enrollment challenge is really an equity challenge and by automatically eliminating SUNY’s college application fee for low-income students, we’re unlocking many more doors of opportunity for all. Waiving SUNY’s application fee is our down payment on the future of our students and is another example showing how SUNY can meet students where they are, knock down any barriers that prevents them from applying, while always looking for innovative ways to further connect students to the high-quality education found at any of our campuses.”
SUNY Board Chairman Merryl H. Tisch said, “SUNY was founded on the values of making high-quality education accessible to all New Yorkers, and we must continue to demonstrate and deliver a deep commitment to fulfilling this most important mission every day. Today’s announcement is yet another example of how SUNY is working tirelessly to level the playing field for economically-disadvantage students by eliminating any barriers in the application process that can make it easier to connect them to a SUNY education. We need to continue this momentum that routinely looks at ways to put students on an achievable path to a college degree and life-long opportunities for success.”
Board of Regents Chancellor Lester W. Young, Jr. and State Education Department Commissioner Betty A. Rosa said, “SUNY encompasses some of the premier higher education learning institutions in our state. By streamlining the application fee waiver process for economically-disadvantage students, SUNY is eliminating an unnecessary barrier that could impact a young person’s ability to attain his or her full potential. Until now, many students that qualified for an application waiver fee did not take advantage of the program. The changes to the system are a welcome improvement. As educators, it is our responsibility to make access to education easier for all students, especially during these challenging and difficult times and we thank SUNY for their commitment to this endeavor.”
John B. King Jr., President and CEO of The Education Trust, 10th U.S. Secretary of Education, and former New York State Education Commissioner, said, “It is encouraging to see SUNY make this common-sense change. Now, more than ever, economic opportunity and financial security are intertwined with educational attainment. By automatically waiving burdensome college application fees, SUNY is smoothing the path to higher education for students from low-income families – the very students with the most to gain from a college degree.”
SUNY Polytechnic Institute Acting President Laursen said, “Under the leadership of Chancellor Malatras, New York high school graduates seeking the incredible benefits of a high-value, affordable education will be able to apply to SUNY institutions regardless of the economic challenges they face. SUNY Poly is proud to join our fellow SUNY institutions in expanding college affordability via this program, to allow prospective students and their families access to an experiential learning-focused college education that will pay lifelong dividends.”
NYS Office of General Services Commissioner Destito said, “The automatic fee waiver comes during the middle of a pandemic when too many lower-income families are struggling to make ends meet. It is now that the college-age kids from these families need this assistance the most. I applaud Chancellor Malatras for taking this important step to address inequities in our educational system.”
Utica City School District Superintendent Karam said, “Serving Utica and our students is my life’s work and while I have seen our students thrive academically and improve their test scores, it pains me when their education ends here after high school graduation when we know it is their dream. We are proud to host Chancellor Malatras as he makes this important announcement so that more of our students, and other across the state, will have a better, streamlined application process that I hope translates to more going on to college.”
Thomas R. Proctor High School Principal Gifford said, “I have seen many students and their families face economic hardships during my tenure as a principal. With this update to the application process at SUNY, high schoolers throughout the state will easily be able to apply for the assistance they need, and in turn, will have an increased chance of being accepted to a SUNY school. I thank Chancellor Malatras for providing a solution to this barrier and for helping our most vulnerable students.”
Dan Egan, Executive Director of Feeding NYS said, “Feeding New York State commends Chancellor Malatras’ announcement today. Waiving the $50 application fee for deserving students not only opens a path to educational opportunity, it saves their families significant money. Fifty dollars will, using average cost data, buy 15 meals in New York State. Families should never have to choose between putting food on the table and pursuing educational opportunities; today’s announcement ensures that families will be able to do both.”
Previously, in order to receive the $50 application fee waiver a student would need to print and sign the form requesting the fee waiver, have their parent or family guardian sign it, and then (1) send in their proof of income or (2) bring the form to their guidance counselor to sign, and then send it with a physical signature. With SUNY’s automatic application fee waiver, the process will be seamless with an electronic check box that the student or counselor clicks on when they send transcripts as part of the application process. This seamless process will launch on March 1.
The new automatic application fee waiver is part of the SUNY for All program “Big Dreams, Small Step” to close college equity gaps for high school seniors through a comprehensive outreach campaign to high school students who could benefit the most from a college degree.
Before the pandemic, a student from a low-income household had only a 10 percent chance of earning a college degree, while students from higher income households had a 50 percent chance. In addition, according to the National Student Clearinghouse, declines in first-time enrollment decreased 13 percent year over year for the Fall 2020 with the steepest declines amongst black (18.7 percent), Hispanic (19.9 percent), and Native American (23.2 percent) students. This is a cause of concern that more students from economically disadvantaged households will continue to be at a disadvantage without a college degree.
The SUNY for All program “Big Dreams, Small Step” campaign includes additional resources for guidance counselors and students, including one-on-one application support and guidance for first-generation, low-income, and under-represented high school students. SUNY will also partner with youth bureaus, NYS public libraries, NYS Counselor Association, and other state and county agencies, as well as reach out to high school seniors directly. The initiative also includes:
- SUNY’s ‘personalized support service’ expansion to help applicants complete an application fee waiver and secure the endorsement of their high school counselor remotely
- Enhanced ‘College Advisor of the Day’ programming, where high school students can book a focused, one-on-one conversation about SUNY’s offerings and the application process
- Provide immediate, easy-to-follow guidance on applying to SUNY and where to get help
Chancellor Malatras has led multiple initiatives within the SUNY for All campaign since taking the role of chancellor at the end of August. As a result, SUNY is reaching out to more New Yorkers, including:
- 50,000 New York learners receiving an online education through out-of-state colleges;
- 2.5 million New Yorkers between ages 25-44 that have no college degree; and
- high school students from disadvantaged backgrounds
SUNY began the SUNY for All campaign when it launched the free Online Training Center in December 2020. For more information, please visit www.suny.edu/sunyforall.