Essex County high school graduates who finish near the top of their class could see their tuition waived at North Country Community College.
The college, based in Saranac Lake, offers free tuition for two years to high school graduates who finish in the top 20 percent in Essex and Franklin counties, which are the college’s two sponsors.
The program has grown each year since it began in 2007, and is intended to reward the area’s brightest students, keep them close to home, and enhance the campus climate.
It saves the students roughly $7,800 in tuition over two years, but they must pay for their fees and other costs, such as books.
Community colleges offer scholarships through their foundations, and in some cases it’s enough to pay for a student’s entire tuition.
But, at least among regional two-year colleges, none have a program as broad as the one at NCCC.
“It has been a priority,” said Ed Trathen, vice president for enrollment and student services at NCCC.
“It’s appropriate to reward them,” he said of the area’s top high school students. “We also like to retain the best and the brightest young people in our county. They also add a lot to the college climate ... It helps create a better-rounded student population at the college.”
Last year, NCCC had 72 students in the program out of roughly 200 students who qualified for it. When the program began five years ago, about 15 students enrolled for the free tuition, Trathen said.
The college does not have final numbers for the upcoming fall semester, but is aiming for 85 students.
The number of students taking advantage of the deal has increased by 50 percent every year, and the college is delighted with its growth, Trathen said.
The program is funded by donations and money generated through the foundation’s endowment, Trathen said.
At SUNY Adirondack in Queensbury, the college has an academic excellence scholarship to cover tuition for two years for high school students who have a grade point average of at least 90, a 1,200 score on their math and English SAT exam, and who finish in the top 10 of their class.
Two years ago, students only had to meet two of the three criteria. But it was tightened because the return on the endowment was low, and the demand for the scholarship was high. The foundation wanted to ensure that all eligible students could receive the money, said Jill Vogel, assistant director of the SUNY Adirondack Foundation.
For the upcoming semester, 17 students are receiving the scholarship, Vogel said.
Hudson Valley Community College in Troy offers the HonorScholar program for high school students who study liberal arts and meet certain academic criteria. The scholarship provides money to cover full or partial tuition.
Schenectady County Community College gives out a dozen scholarships per year that cover half the cost of tuition for four semesters. The college is also developing an honors program to award money to top students, said spokesman Darren Johnson.
But programs similar to that at NCCC are drawing interest at other colleges.
At Fulton-Montgomery Community College in Johnstown, officials are looking at offering free tuition to area high school students who finish in the top 5 or 10 percent of the graduating class, said President Dustin Swanger.
He said the program could be started as soon as next spring.
“It’s a way to recruit top students — students who are academically gifted and advanced. That adds to the classroom,” Swanger said.