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OCC preparing for state's new free tuition program

Onondaga Community College
Onondaga Community College

Onondaga Community College expects a bump in enrollment following the state legislature’s approval of free tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools. It was part of the state budget plan approved on Sunday.

Tuition at OCC weighs in at about $4,700 a year.

“If you can take that bill out of the way, I think it really makes people look at college in a new way as something that is more affordable,” said OCC President Casey Crabill.

OCC President Casey Crabill

Crabill expects that community colleges could see the first increase in enrollment from what’s called the Excelsior Scholarship, because many four-year SUNY schools have already putting together their freshman classes for the fall. Students for those schools have been accepted and deposits have to go in May 1. So four-year schools may see more impact starting in 2018.

The program will phase in over three years, starting this fall, offering the tuition break for families earning up to $100,000. That increases to $125,000 by the third year of the program.

Crabill expects it to help a certain kind of student -- not one in great financial need, because they would already be getting help from the state’s Tuition Assistance Program and federal Pell Grants.

"But there are a great number of students whose family income has been too high to get much assistance from either of those programs, and this program will help them a great deal.”

OCC is developing rules and regulations that go along with the free tuition, and Crabill says staff is willing to sit down with families to answer any questions.

Crabill says the campus can absorb extra students, although she says depending on numbers, there could be issues down the road.

“I don’t expect that it will create a budget hole. But I do think if we have more students and we are asked to serve a broader spectrum of the community, I’ll need more over time, more faculty, and better class scheduling so we can better serve the student that come.”

The program also requires participants in the Excelsior Scholarship program to stay in New York State for the number of years they accept free tuition from the state.

Ellen produces news reports and features related to events that occur in the greater Syracuse area and throughout Onondaga County. Her reports are heard regularly in regional updates in Morning Edition and All Things Considered.