In a survey sent to and responded by current students, Insight analyzed data in order to find out how students perceived the new Excelsior Scholarship program, its possible effect on their academic future and Daemen’s well being. Combined, nearly 100 undergraduate and graduate students participated, with a plethora of anonymous responses also collected.
Around 57 percent of respondents were supportive of the Excelsior Scholarship plan. Many praised the program’s ability to allow more individuals to attend colleges and universities.
“It gives the people who do not have the money to afford a college education the opportunity to receive one. With Daemen being so ridiculously expensive, I think it was a great idea. People who actually need/want a college education will put up with the requirements of the free tuition if it allows them to receive an educator for free,” one student said.
Many of those in opposition cited that, even though they personally were in college debt, were still against the program and found that funds to students should be more selective.
“As a student with thousands of dollars of debt, I am still opposed to free education. If education is free, it decreases the value of it to students. Scholarships for free tuition should be given based on merit and applicability/need for more people with that degree. Why should paying for someone to get a degree in English fall on the public,” a student asked.
Even students who supported the legislation found it to be an imperfect solution to the higher education cost problem. These respondents said that, while flawed, the plan was “a step in the right direction.”
Though the majority of the responses were in favor of the program, only around 29 percent of students were either considering or planning to leave Daemen for a public institution. According to those respondents, financials played a large factor in their decision.
Of the 71 percent that said they planned to stay at Daemen, many said they were continuing their education at Daemen said they were only doing so because they were so advanced in their programs.
“I’m too far into my education to leave now. If I was a freshman though, I would probably leave to receive free tuition at a SUNY college,” a student said.
Others that stated that their decision to remain at Daemen was due to its status as a private institution, and that they viewed the academics to be superior here.
“I think the value of a bachelor’s degree from a state college/university will decrease because of this scholarship. Therefore, I believe that having a bachelor’s degree from a private college, such as Daemen, will look better to future employers,” one respondent noted.
Students were also asked about their own satisfaction with their experiences at Daemen. Responses in this question were scattered, as students were asked to rate their experience of a scale of one to five, with one serving as not satisfied at all one five serving as very satisfied.
75 percent of respondents fell in the middle ranges of this measurement. The highest percentage fell at three out of five, as 30 percent of students deemed their experience to be fair. Students based their opinions on cost and what they got out of the college for that cost that they paid. Several responses noted that Daemen’s PA and PT programs were worth the costs, but that other majors were likely not worth Daemen’s prices.
“As a Physician Assistant student, my experience has been drastically different than the majority of students at Daemen College. I cannot complain about my program in anyway, and I do feel that the cost of this program has been worth it. However, if I was in a different major that could be done elsewhere, I do not believe I would feel the same way, and I most likely would enroll at a public university,” a PA student said.
This point was reiterated again when another respondent said “The school is focused solely on nurturing the PA and PT students and it feels like Daemen doesn’t care about any other academic program.”
Other students felt that the College gave them tools to succeed, but that more should be done.
“I’ve made the most of my college experience by joining clubs and taking advantage of internships that have come my way but there have definitely been times while paying for school I didn’t think Daemen was worth it. I wish there were more opportunities for students of color or students who are financially dependent on their parents,” a student said.
On April 12, the College cemented its stance on the Excelsior Scholarship program as a letter sent from President Gary Olson to the campus explained parts of the scholarship program and encouraged students to review all of their options before considering a transfer to a public institution.
Students were asked if they felt that the College’s administration had an appropriate reaction to the legislation’s passing. Around 66 percent of those that responded agreed with Olson’s response.
“I believe the response was appropriate. I believe that this legislation could severely hurt some of our departments. I believe that the administration did the right thing in trying to educate people about the Excelsior Scholarship while at the same time reminding people that you will not receive the quality of education that is taught at Daemen anywhere else,” a student said.
However, some students were strongly opposed to the administration’s response, with one student calling it “selfish.”
“I believe that students who are not well-researched and ‘in the know’ of politics and are not able to understand what passing a program like this means for Gov. Cuomo will not interpret the ‘information’ given out from Daemen’s administration for what it really was: extremely biased and one-sided. As the governor of a state, I would take this as an important indicator of the success of my administration. The information that the administration published made Daemen seem as though it was going to close its doors tomorrow and that our future is doomed, and basically called the program idiotic, trying to point out the ‘flaws,” one student said.
Vice President for Student Affairs Greg Nayor defended the President’s letter, saying “ I think Dr. Olson’s letter was right on the money. Look, the Gov. has been pushing an agenda that Excelsior will make college free and that is absolutely untrue. Dr. Olson was speaking for the students and helping them to be informed. A student transferring from Daemen for the allure of ‘free college’ would be surprised when they do not meet criteria, have a bill almost the size of what they had at Daemen or wind up losing the scholarship after a semester for not completing 30 credits in a year. That would set students behind with more debt and frustration, and for us, whether they leave Daemen or not, is unacceptable.”
Nearly 64 percent of students said that they were ultimately concerned with the future of private institutions. While the administration also has its concerns, Nayor is confident that Daemen will remain open.
“It is too early to say what the impact will be, but we have a good product and we are not going anywhere” he said.
One of the immediate effects on Daemen came in the form of a spending freeze. According to Nayor, the spending freeze will along the “college to pause and assess the situation.”
Nayor also provided his insight into some of the responses from the survey.
When asked about students’ opinions regarding lack of activities and events on campus, Nayor said, “I would offer that students at every college say those things. And yet, every year for the last three years that I have been here, we have worked to improve the life and atmosphere on campus. Think about the increase in campus athletics, the Den, DCLive on the weekend, new clubs and organizations, etc…”
In terms of student satisfaction at Daemen, Nayor noted some of the benefits of attending a private institution versus a public institution.
“What Daemen offers are things that those college cannot offer-personal attention, small classes taught by tenured faculty, opportunities for involvement across campus and more. At a big, public institution, students are a number. At Daemen College, they are people who can easily talk to the Vice President for Student Affairs, of the Provost, or even the President, easily. Additionally, when you compare the prices side by side, even with Excelsior, public institutions are not that much cheaper than private colleges” he offered.
Only time will tell how Daemen and other private institutions will fare with the new legislation. Insight will continuing following these developments, as well as documenting student responses.