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Free SUNY and CUNY tuition arriving after Utica College tuition reset

Utica College
Utica College President Laura Casamento addresses the school's graduates during a 2016 spring commencement. Casamento has overseen a tuition reset at Utica College, which lowered rates by 42 percent.

Some New York lawmakers and college administrators are worried about what the state's new free tuition policy at SUNY and CUNY could mean for private schools, including those at Utica College. The private college just cut its tuition rate by 42 percent last fall.

Since Utica College lowered its undergraduate tuition rate last fall, enrollment and retention numbers are up. And now, Jeffrey Gates, the school's vice president for student affairs and enrollment management, says they're seeing a record number of applications too. But Gates fears this momentum could stall with the state's new Excelsior Scholarship.

"We’re concerned of course that the budget is a clear statement from some officials that students should attend a public institution instead of small, private institutions like Utica and it’s sort of insulting to our students, the families and the trustees and our entire campus community," Gates said. 

Gates says offering free tuition at state colleges could inadvertently limit choices for students.

"Each student has a different idea of fit, has a different idea of an experience and really what is going to be the best environment for them that’s what our concern is is that we don’t want to take choice away from students," Gates said. 

Assemblyman Anthony Brindisi (D-Utica) says making college more affordable is something state leaders should be pursuing, but he thinks the Excelsior Scholarship is the wrong way to go about it. 

"I think there is a danger that private universities and colleges will have suffered under this proposal," Brindisi said. "Utica College just did the right thing last year by doing a tuition reset and lowering their tuition, but unfortunately they have not received any recognition from the state for doing that. Their main competition are SUNY schools and we should be incentivizing and rewarding private colleges and universities like Utica College that have done the right thing to lower tuition."

The new state budget does increase scholarship funding for private schools, but the colleges and universities must match those grants and freeze tuition rates for the recipients. Gates says that could be an issue for Utica College, which is balancing its lower tuition rates by offering fewer financial aid packages.

Utica College officials are discussing how to react to the new program now. Yet Gates thinks the school will be fine because it offers competitive services for students, smaller class sizes and inexpensive student fees.