Access and Success
Governor Cuomo has taken steps to assist New York State students access, afford and complete postsecondary education through his proposal to establish the Excelsior Scholarship Program
. If enacted as a part of the State budget, resident undergraduate students from households making less than $100,000 will be able to attend any SUNY or CUNY school tuition-free beginning this fall.
Improving educational access and completion for students is vital to an economically competitive New York State, but what does this initiative mean for SUNY Optometry, a graduate/health professions institution?
Expanding access to educational opportunity may increase the pool of qualified undergraduate students whose talents may be applied within our growing field. But I believe Excelsior’s greatest impact will not only be on the overall affordability of education but also on expanding college graduates’ perception of career choice.
Let’s take a moment to consider the influence debt, or simply the perception of the burden associated with debt, may have on one’s decision-making, particularly education and career choices. What is the psychological impact of debt, real or perceived, prior to the application stage, during school selection, while one studies and after graduation? How many exemplary students do not even apply to post-baccalaureate programs such as those offered by SUNY Optometry because of preexisting undergraduate debt? To what degree are our graduates’ job decisions influenced by the need to repay student loans? Do our graduates turn down lower paying positions providing care to underserved communities to take positions that offer more immediate financial benefits?
We are constantly reminded of the challenge of debt, particularly in the health professions. It is not uncommon for a new doctor to graduate with $100,000, $200,000 or more in debt. Though the College maintains a student indebtedness profile well below the national average, our Student Affairs team regularly provides advice to and assistance before financial challenges become overwhelming. And our students are encouraged to make prudent financial decisions to ensure financial freedom after their time with us.
By tackling skyrocketing undergraduate costs, New York State is, in essence, both protecting the next generation from crippling education-related debt and providing increased freedom of career choice. Students will be less likely to compromise their academic aspirations due to perceived or real economic concerns.
David A. Heath, OD, EdM