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City might pay CUNY application fee for high school students

A top city education official on Thursday suggested a relatively inexpensive way to boost the number of high school students who go to college – pay their application fee.

Chief Academic Officer Shael Polakow-Suransky said the department is considering paying the $65 application fee for high school students applying to the City University of New York, which he said would cost the city about $500,000 annually.

“I think it would be a smart move and send a really powerful message to kids,” Polakow-Suransky said during a panel hosted by a group of education philanthropies.

CUNY currently gives schools “a very limited quantity” of waivers to distribute to their neediest students, but doesn’t accept waivers from other groups, such as the College Board, according to CUNY application forms. The department’s plan would pay the fees of some 6,600 students annually with “an economic need” who are not currently covered by the waivers, according to a department spokesman.

Polakow-Suransky said that every year some students who don’t get waivers balk at the fee and decide either not to apply or to wait until a time when they can afford it – which may never arrive.

He added that the plan is still in the works, but that CUNY has expressed interest.

“It’s definitely a doable thing,” he said.

CUNY’s annual tuition is $5,730 for its four-year colleges and $4,200 for its community colleges – though many students receive financial aid. Outgoing city Comptroller John Liu has proposed that the city offer free CUNY tuition to the top high school graduates.

For many high school students, the fee is just one obstacle among many during a daunting college-application process.

Many low-income and first-generation college students receive little college guidance at home or in school, according to a report commissioned by the Education Funders Research Initiative, which hosted Thursday’s panel.

The report notes that the city’s high schools are not required to have a college counselor and that the majority of high-school guidance counselors face caseloads of 100 to 300 students.

It adds that the city recently began to train at least one staff member at each high school in college counseling.

Polakow-Suransky said the fee idea is just one of “dozens of small solutions” to boost college enrollment.

“You have to sweat the small stuff,” he said.

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