Liam Morgenstern really wanted to attend a four-year college, preferably SUNY Oswego, after high school in Chatham. He received a letter that had, instead of a denial, a promise -- about the college's new Admission Promise Program.

SUNY Oswego last spring did away with the traditional "denial" letter for those who don't qualify initially to attend the college. Instead, Oswego guarantees a pathway for admission -- in as little as a year -- to those who enroll at a community college and show success. The program piloted last fall when Morgenstern, who now attends Columbia-Greene Community College, was applying to four-year schools.

"When I read about the Admission Promise Program, I jumped right on it," he said. "I really wanted to go to a four-year school. I looked into Admission Promise and they said I could transfer after a year in community college with at least 24 credits. I thought, 'Why not get those credits out of the way and get to Oswego as soon as possible.'" Morgenstern will start at the college this fall, majoring in cinema and screen studies, with a minor in photography.

Students applying for the Admission Promise Program must first attend a community college and meet a cumulative GPA requirement for the credits they have taken, whether one year's worth or two. They do not have to reapply to Oswego; they are guaranteed admission as long as they've met all program requirements.

In all, 60 students who had sought admission to Oswego have applied to attend under Admission Promise -- many of them would start in fall 2020 -- and applications are still coming in. Morgenstern is among three community college students who opted for the program last fall and have been admitted to SUNY Oswego for fall 2019.

"What we're saying is, 'Even if you don't meet the criteria to begin at Oswego as a first-year student, there is an organized way to get here, through our community college partners," said Daniel Griffin, SUNY Oswego's director of admissions. "There can be advantages to obtaining an associate's (two-year) degree, so we are not pushing any students to get here any sooner than they're ready. But we are willing to work with those who are ready perhaps sooner than other students."

'Affordable excellence'

Griffin and Craig Green, an associate director of admissions with responsibility for transfers, said the new message of hope for those who initially fall below Oswego's admission requirements is more positive than the ages-old alternative.

"We won't use the word that they're 'denied' as a freshman in the letter we send them," Green said. "Now it's, 'We don't have room for you currently in the freshman class, but we'd like you to consider being part of this program.'"

The message can be encouraging for students who consider Oswego their "dream school," and for those who feel pressure to start higher education in a four-year bachelor's degree program.

"It's just a little different route and, by the way, you'll get the same degree as a student who started at Oswego as a freshman," Green said. "You don't have to pick your second (four-year) school as a default."

It can actually mean two degrees for some, an associate's from the community college and a bachelor's from Oswego, according to Amy Kremenek, vice president for enrollment development and communications at Onondaga Community College.

"Onondaga Community College is pleased to partner with SUNY Oswego for the Admission Promise Program," Kremenek said. "By getting a strong head start at OCC, students will be on their way to taking advantage of the affordable excellence in higher education offered by both institutions and have the opportunity to earn two SUNY degrees."

Colleges collaborate

Other partnering community colleges, by and large, have greeted the SUNY Oswego approach with optimism, too, Griffin said. Admission Promise encourages those who are short of Oswego's requirements to enroll at SUNY's two-year schools, rather than perhaps going into heavier debt at four-year private schools.

"We reached out to some community colleges we work with regularly and ran the idea by them as a pilot (last fall), and they embraced it immediately," Griffin said.

In recent years, SUNY Oswego has admitted over 1,400 first-year students each fall and has relied on about 700 transfer students -- most from two-year schools -- to keep its own enrollment robust.

Oswego reaches out to Admission Promise applicants at least once a semester at their community college of choice, said Jordan Perry, a transfer admissions counselor who makes many of those contacts.

"If a student would like course recommendations, I will do that," she said. "I ask what they will study here (at Oswego) and whether they've earned any previous college credit (such as through Advanced Placement programs in high school), then I will make those recommendations -- courses that will transfer to their degree here."

Morgenstern, who has friends enrolled at Oswego, said he was pleased to speak with Perry when she visited Columbia-Greene, and on other times on the phone.

"Each semester, she helped me set up a schedule for credits that I could transfer over. She was very helpful and very nice," he said. Morgenstern said he is very excited about orientation and the start of classes at Oswego this August.

Griffin said Admission Promise is about respect for students who have put time and effort into applying to start their college careers at SUNY Oswego. "It is about treating every applicant with dignity and giving every applicant a pathway to Oswego," he said. "It's also about growing our own future transfers, similar to what we do with the Start Now program."

Start Now is primarily intended for students from the New York City metropolitan area who enroll at OCC or Jefferson Community College. It is more structured, with personalized and regular support from Oswego's Start Now coordinator, Sandra Montalvo, as well as community college teachers, advisors and professional staff.

For more information on SUNY Oswego's Admission Promise program, email For Start Now, email Call 315-312-2250 to be directed to information about either of those programs or to anyone in the Office of Admissions.