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Catholic Colleges Ponder Challenges of Excelsior Scholarships


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8/​2/​17 |

By KATHLEEN BRADY
Gov. Andrew Cuomo recently announced that through the new Excelsior Scholarship program, tuition in the state’s two- and four-year public colleges will be free for students in families earning less than $100,000 this year. The income limit will rise to $125,000 in 2019. Of the more than 460,000 families with college-age students in New York City, 84 percent are eligible for the program.

The state now spends about $8,860 for each student in the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) systems, compared with about $650 for students in private, non-profit colleges.

Presidents and administrators of Catholic colleges in the Archdiocese of New York are wary of Excelsior Scholarships, but they say the measure, which was part of the state budget passed in April, came too late to have a serious impact on their enrollments for this fall. They point out that affordability and access are not the only issues. Private colleges graduate more students in four years—57 percent in 2015—compared with a 50 percent rate for SUNY, 21 percent for CUNY and 38 percent for proprietary schools, which offer specific career training programs.

Catholic college administrators wonder whether the promise of free tuition will eventually discourage low-income students from enrolling in Catholic colleges. They believe that downstate institutions will weather the challenge better than upstate ones. Above all, they are skeptical that the scholarships will help as much as expected.

“We are not interested in the program. It’s redundant given what we already do. We already make a six to one match on any money our students get from the state,” Fordham University spokesman Bob Howe said.

“There are onerous restrictions on Excelsior Scholarships. I don’t know if the administrators of New York state know how vulnerable this low-income population is. These scholarships could put them in a worse situation than they are in already,” he said.

The sudden rollout so late in the registration cycle surprised many and caused admission offices to scramble to deal with it. May 1 was the reply date for September admission, by which time students and families have usually completed their plans to finance schooling.

Excelsior money is applied only to tuition, not to fees, room and board. It requires recipients to take an average of 30 credits per year, including during the summer and January semesters, which can be a hurdle for those who need to earn income from jobs outside of school. After graduation, they must work as well as live in the state for as many years as they were on the program. If they relocate, say for career advancement in Connecticut or to care for a sick parent in New Jersey, the scholarships are converted to loans that must be repaid.

“Free tuition sounds good, but the details are in the fine print,” said Bill Bisset, vice president of enrollment management at Manhattan College in the Riverdale section of the Bronx.

“It’s tough to compete with free, and the CUNY and SUNY schools are very good,” he said. He noted that small upstate institutions with a smaller pool of applicants are more concerned about Excelsior and they are likely to be affected sooner.

Cuomo and the lawmakers tried to offset potential harm to private colleges through the Enhanced Tuition Assistance Program (ETA). Low-income students attending private schools can participate if schools match their $3,000 state grant and freeze tuition for recipients. In contrast to the Excelsior program budget of $87 million for the coming academic year, the ETA budget is $19 million. So far, 10 of the state’s 17 Catholic institutions of higher education have signed up, all with limits on how many ETA scholarships they can grant. Thirty of the more than 100 private colleges and universities in the state have enrolled.

New York also offers the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP), which consists of grants that qualified college students can use at any nonprofit institution in the state. State Sen. Jeffrey Klein, who represents parts of the Bronx and Westchester, said, “Between the innovative Excelsior Scholarship and the crucial increase to TAP assistance, students from both public and private institutions in New York State will now be less burdened by student loan debt upon graduating.”

At the College of Mount St. Vincent in Riverdale, president Charles Flynn asked, “What family with an income of even $150,000 can afford college? We are lucky because we exceeded our enrollment goals for the fall, but really good schools around the state are reporting serious problems. Does this ill-designed and ill-conceived program promise continued vitality? Why do we have no trouble funding prisons upstate but we can’t fund small upstate colleges? They are the only vital segment of the upstate economy.”

He concluded, “It’s nice to have a government strategy, but it is nicer if it also works. People’s lives depend on policy. This has made me feel quite immoderate.”

Because the Excelsior Scholarships were included in the state budget, legislators who voted for the budget in effect voted for the scholarship program as well. State Sen. Jeffrey Dinowitz, whose district includes Mount St. Vincent and Manhattan College, said, “I hope it won’t adversely affect independent colleges. I went to Lehman College, also in my district, when it was free but independent colleges did just fine then. I don’t know why there should be a change. We have to watch that carefully so the measure can be altered if need be. In terms of making Excelsior Scholarship Students live in the state, if the taxpayers invest in them the taxpayer should get the benefits of their tax dollars and what they add to the economy after they graduate.”

Conceding that the requirement for a full course load could be a problem, he commented, “Changes can be made. I view the Excelsior Scholarships as a pilot right now.”

Remember the Alamo, Rizzoli Bookstore and Jim's Shoe Repair


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Jim's Shoe Repair on Manhattan's at 50 East 59th Street has been in business for 87 years. Now the adjacent Duane Reade chain wants its space, reportedly so it can sell frozen foods. Duane Reade, which Walgreen purchased in 2010 for $618 million dollars, is forcing the family-owned artisanal service to shut its doors.

Now is the time and here is the place for New Yorkers to take a stand if they are alarmed by seeing productive businesses destroyed by the combination of out-of-control generic big box stores, New York real estate interests, and the complicit Giuliani and Bloomberg Administrations. Maybe Jim’s Shoe Repair Store can be the place where the de Blasio Administration steps in to help small businesses and preserve what is left of commercial diversity in Manhattan. Surely small businesses are as worthy of salvation as carriage horses, even if their supporters are less organized.

Without a public outcry against Duane Reade and Walgreen ($72 billion in sales in fiscal 2013) and landlord SL Green Realty, Jim’s Shoe Repair will join the famed Rizzoli’s Bookstore, and the less iconic Nemati rug and tapestry store on Third Avenue and Vacesi Hardware on East 23rd, along with hundreds of other successful or promising small businesses that have been victims of predatory real estate interests.

Two Duane Reades, two Walgreens and a CVS all operate in a 1.5 block radius of my apartment, and most Manhattanites below 96th Street can say much the same of these interchangeable outlets. We do not need more of them and we do not need them to be bigger than they are. They should not gobble up more space and they should not destroy more productive businesses. Jim’s is trying to get redress through the Landmarks Commission, which ignored it in the past, but here’s a plan for the rest of us:

1. Patronize Jim’s Shoe Repair at 50 East 59th Street near the Fifth Avenue N,R,Q subway. This support will help it to pay its legal bills to fight these greedy businesses that prey on the spirit of New York. In addition, you will also see what expert shoe repair looks like.

2. Sign an electronic petition at http:/​/​www.ipetitions.com/​petition/​save-jims-shoe-repair or this site.

3. Phone Customer Relations at Duane Reade (and why is this office not in New York City where it could hire the city residents who patronize these stores?)
Here are two numbers – 800-925-4733, which I obtained from a company source, and 866-375-6925, which is on the website. Provide Jim's address – 50 East 59th Street -- and 625 Madison Avenue, the address of the building that houses it and the rapacious Duane Reade that is gobbling up its business.

4. Phone Walgreen at 800-925-4733

5. Call SL Green Realty, ask for the leasing agent of 625 Madison Avenue, and tell them that they should renew Jim’s lease. They will give you a polite runaround. Probably SL Green thrives on bad will, but perhaps it would like to generate good publicity by doing something decent.

6. Contact REBNY – the Real Estate Board of New York. Its website says that questions about the commercial Brokerage Division should be directed to Desiree Jones at (212) 616-5226 or djones@​rebny.com

Taking these actions would be constructive use of smartphones. On a personal note, without Jim’s to repair my shoes, I may have to use them less. Certainly if Walgreen and Duane Reade takes Jim's down, I will never again walk into one of these outfits again. Drugstore.com* is looking good – and it sells cheaper branded contact lens solution too.

*Correction: In a demonstration of the importance of a family business, after this blog was posted my nephew David, a business grad student, informed me that drugstore.com is owned by Walgreen. One of us has made me proud.

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Sadly, this column is still relevant ten years later....




The Central Park Jogger Case


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Now Let Us Turn to the Victims

The evidence exonerating the five Harlem youths is incomplete -- as incomplete as the evidence that got them convicted. Now the Central Park Jogger case of 13 years ago is notorious for new reasons. Since Matias Reyes has confessed to the crime and his DNA has been matched to the evidence, it seems the demonized teenagers who served time for raping The Central Park Jogger were wrongly imprisoned and a heinous crime was compounded by a heinous injustice.

This is less likely to happen again if the police, public and the media of New York take every rape and murder victim as seriously as they took the valiant, young, privileged, white female investment banker who was brutalized 13 years ago. The case of the Central Park Jogger went wrong two days before it happened, on Monday, April 17, 1989 when another young woman in the same area of Central Park near East 106th Street was raped and suffered severe head injuries. Nobody -- except the police and those at St. Luke's Hospital who helped her battle back to life and health -- knew about her. The media paid no attention to the case and the public never heard of her.
This Central Park Unknown was another woman in her 20s. She was doing tai chi exercises, as millions of people do safely in every park in Asia. The Unknown told the police that a young man had beaten her face and head, yanked off her clothes and sexually assaulted her until another man ran to her aid, having been called by her screams. The Manhattan Sex Crimes unit never did come up with a suspect and so had nothing to refer to the District Attorney Robert Morgenthau. Manhattan North Homicide handled the case of the jogger because she was expected to die. The two divisions did not work together.

In contrast, the Jogger's case was known throughout the city. Her case was the grabber. There were 3254 sexual assault cases in New York City in 1989, but they blurred. In this case, everyone knew that the Jogger's young, productive, educated brain was battered to a pulp but cradled and protected by the mud of Central Park where she had been raped. Her name was never released, but the press revealed she was an investment banker at Salomon Brothers and she lived on E. 83rd Street where she was thinking of buying her apartment. What does the fact that she alone was news say about us? One wants to believe that the public cared so much about the Central Park Jogger because her situation became so real. One wants to believe that the public would have cared about the first victim if her story had been told. But we would not have. The evidence is in the response to the current case of Lynette Luckett, a home care attendant, age 51, who was steps from her door on Belmont Avenue in the Bronx when a robber, beer bottle in one hand and eight inch knife in the other, stabbed her in the back. As blood gushed from her mouth, nose and torso, Luckett collapsed and died two hours later of her injuries. Her two nephews and a family friend, along with another man, captured a suspect who has been charged.
In the Central Park Jogger case, Donald Trump bought $85,000 worth of newspaper ads to demand the five Harlem teens be executed. Will he cry out for justice for this middle-aged woman and for the sanctity of the Tremont section of the Bronx?
The media needs to ask itself why it trumpeted the tragedy of a young female investment banker jogging in Central Park near 104th Street after 9 p.m., and knew or reported nothing about a similar attack on a young woman who doing tai chi in that same area on a Monday afternoon. Was the Unknown from East Harlem? Did she have a job? Was she white? Why did the police not connect her to the Central Park Jogger case? Maybe if the media or the police had picked up on her case, Matias Reyes would have been caught before he went on to rape four more women in the summer of 1989 and kill one, a 24-year old pregnant woman.

The public needs to examine its lack of reaction to the story of the late Lynette Luckett. She was Trinidadian, middle-aged and a home health care attendant who lived in the Bronx. Her murderer may have been someone of her own race. Her case did make the papers -- murders capture media attention more than rape does -- but rather than cries of outrage, one hears silent ho-hums. Until this most caring of cities cares about all its citizens equally, the poor ones, the rich ones, and the middle aged ones who are struggling to stay out of poverty, we can expect shortcuts to vengeance for sad but privileged victims who capture our imagination and stimulate the levers of power.