New York Plans to Offer Free Tuition at Public Colleges

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo makes a point during a meeting on tax cut proposals in the Red Room at the Capitol on Monday, Jan. 6, 2014, in Albany, N.Y. Cuomo has proposed cutting the state’s corporate income tax from 7.1 percent to 6.5 percent and eliminating it altogether for upstate manufacturers. He also has proposed paying more state aid as an incentive to any of New York’s 10,500 local governments that impose hard 2 percent spending caps and cut their costs by consolidating services with other towns, villages, cities and counties. (AP Photo/Mike Groll)
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Andrew M. Cuomo has been the Democratic Governor of New York since 2011, after being the state’s Attorney General from 2007 to 2010.  Cuomo is now furthering the agenda of the Democratic Party by proposing to cover tuition for eligible students at state universities and colleges whose families earn less than $125,000 a year.  The initiative will be phased in over three years.  In 2017, New York students whose families earn less than $100,000 a year will be eligible to attend a state university or college free of tuition.  In 2018, that number will be $110,000, and finally reaching the $125,000 in 2019.

Cuomo plans to roll out the plan, known as Excelsior Scholarship, in the fall of 2017.  However, it must first pass the state legislature.  Republicans hold a small majority in the New York State Senate, but Democrats hold a super majority in the State Assembly.  Cuomo’s administration estimates that Excelsior Scholarship will cost at least $163 million in the first year alone.  Naturally, as the salary amount required for students to become eligible rises and more students receive scholarships, the cost to cover the tuition for the students will rise as well.  Nearly one million New York families will qualify for the program.

At LaGuardia Community College in Queens on Tuesday, Cuomo stated “College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success, and the way this society said we’re going to pay for high school beceause you need high school, this society should say we’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful.  And New York state is going to do something about it.”

As more employers require post-secondary education, more states, regardless of political party, are paying attention to the cost of college.  Oregon, Tennessee, and Minnesota currently have free community college programs.  If Cuomo’s proposal gets legislative approval, New York will become the largest state to offer tuition-free public higher education to its residents.

The fight for free public higher education gained steam in the 2016 presidential election when Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders and Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton proposed tuition-free public colleges and universities for most Americans.  Since Donald Trump has become the President-elect, many of the proponents for tuition-free public higher education have rallied behind the states to individually take measures to reduce the cost of tuition.  Senator Sanders believes if New York is able to follow through with Excelsior Scholarship, then other states will soon follow.

Senator Sanders was with Cuomo when he made the announcement on Tuesday, and Sanders voiced his opinion:

“This is an idea that is not only going to reverberate throughout the state of New York, but throughout the country.  What today’s message is about is if you are in the fourth grade and you start studying hard, you will be able to get the college education you need to make it to the middle class, regardless of your family income. That’s revolutionary.”

However, it is unclear if the initiative will get the legislative approval it hopes for.  Neither New York State Senate Speaker John Flanagan (R) nor New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie (D) immediately responded to requests for comments.

Almost two-thirds of New York residents who graduate from four-year state universities have an average of $29,320 in debt, as the in-state tuition for State University of New York is $6,470.  The tuition for community colleges in New York is about $4,350 for residents, and Governor Cuomo hopes to use Excelsior Scholarship in order to eliminate the cost and consequential debt for students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year.

(h/t The Washington Post)

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