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Tuesday, March 6, 2018 - 4:15pm

When New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo announced last June that the state would offer free tuition to qualifying New York residents—essentially a free ride to all CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges—it prompted a frenzy of excitement among middle-class families. Within days, the Governor’s office was flooded with more than 21,000 applicants.

But the state program, known as EXCELSIOR, is by no means a one-size-fits-all solution. According to Mercy College’s Vice President of Enrollment Services Margaret McGrail EXCELSIOR comes with several strings attached, and fails to adequately serve students who might prefer to attend a private school like Mercy College.

Mercy recently announced a counterpart to the EXCELSIOR—but without all the strings. It’s called the Mercy ASPIRE New York Scholarship, and it has a lot of people talking.

“Students who are hoping to have their tuition fully funded don’t have to attend a public institution if what they really want is the kind of education they can only get at a private college like Mercy,” said McGrail, explaining the differences between the state program and ASPIRE. “EXCELSIOR is not exactly a free ride,” she said. “With qualifying students, the state program applies federal and state aid first, such as TAP, and the rest is covered by the EXCELSIOR funding.”

Additionally, EXCELSIOR requires recipients to continue living and working in New York for several years after graduation. If they fail to meet that requirement, the “scholarship” converts to a loan. ASPIRE sets no such conditions.

“ASPIRE is truly a scholarship,” said McGrail. “It covers the same income bracket and works in combination with TAP, Pell Grants and other Mercy assistance programs. ASPIRE layers $1,500 per year on top of those awards. And while the recipient does have to file an annual FAFSA and keep up their academic standing for renewal, the ASPIRE money doesn’t have to be paid back.”

In a recent Facebook Live interview on “Funding Your Mercy College Education,” McGrail revealed her passion for helping students realize their dreams. “I’m one of 12 children whose parents didn’t go to college, and couldn’t even picture any of us with diplomas,” she explained. “But all 12 of us went to college, and half earned master’s degrees. I find it so satisfying to now be serving the kind of student that I was myself. It’s a way to give back, for the people who did it for me.”

Open to all incoming freshmen who are residents of New York State, ASPIRE provides $6,000 in tuition benefits, spread out over four years, to eligible students with an annual family income of $125,000 or less. Awardees must be enrolled full-time, and while there is no requirement on the number of credits, students must annually reapply for renewal of the grant. Importantly, new transfer students can apply, while the state award criteria adversely impact transfer students’ eligibility.

ASPIRE’s primary focus is on academic progress, and that’s where Mercy’s commitment to student success truly shines. If a student encounters an unexpected problem due to extenuating circumstances, such as illness or job loss, Mercy’s robust support systems can help the student get back on track.

All new Mercy College applicants are automatically considered for the ASPIRE awards, which will be announced in financial aid packages going out to students accepted for fall 2018.