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Governor Cuomo Proposes Plan to Eliminate Tuition from Public Colleges in New York State

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For the average college student, one of their biggest concerns is the high cost of a college education and the debt they’ll more than likely walk into after graduation. College debt has become an [almost] unavoidable consequence of pursuing higher education, with the average student starting their post collegiate career almost $30,000 in debt. This amount of compounding debt may also have a detrimental effect on the economy as it is the second largest source of consumer debt in the United States, according to the website of New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo.

In an effort to curb the growing amount of debt, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with the support of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, introduced a proposal that would eliminate the tuition of public colleges and universities for the middle class students in the state of New York. Essentially, Cuomo plans to grant funds to cover the tuition costs of families that make $125,000 or less a year that have students attending a public SUNY or CUNY school. According to the governor’s website, this program, dubbed the Excelsior Scholarship, “will ensure that students statewide, regardless of their socio-economic status, have the opportunity to receive a quality education and gain the skills they need to succeed in our global economy.”

The proposed path of the Excelsior Scholarship is that it will be carried out in phases in over three years: Covering families that make up to $100,000 in the fall of 2017, those who make up to $110,000 in 2018, and then those who make $125,000 or less in 2019. The state estimates that this initiative will cost roughly $163 million per year once fully established, considering 80 percent of New York households make $125,000 or less with an estimated 940,000 households having college-aged children eligible for the program.

Eligible students would still receive pre-existing federal aid packages such as TAP grants, however, the Excelsior Scholarship would only cover the remaining tuition costs that were not covered by these pre-existing federal loans. As a “last-dollar” program where free tuition is granted only after other federal grants are applied, Cuomo’s proposal differs from the “first-dollar” programs of Senator Sanders and Secretary Clinton, which granted free tuition on top of federal grants, giving more aid to students. Students receiving aid from this initiative would also have to be enrolled as full-time students, not accounting for families or individuals that have other obligations such as childcare and jobs that would require them to attend college part-time.

The plan benefits mostly middle class families with college age students, seeing that lower income students are already granted enough federal aid to cover tuition costs. Since the program entails the restrictions of income and mandates that students attend college full-time, the Excelsior Scholarship will likely impact a smaller number than federal predictions currently forecast [200,000 would actually qualify instead of the nearly one million proposed]. The plan may also cost more than the current estimated $163 million per year due to the uncertainty of how many students would take advantage of the program and enroll in New York State schools. The program does aim to attract more students to public colleges and universities, and this in turn would make the SUNYs and CUNYs more selective and attractive to prospective students.

Even though it may not deliver all that it promises, the Excelsior Scholarship initiative has generally received positive feedback. Sanders is a big supported, having previously states that “what Governor Cuomo is proposing is a revolutionary idea for higher education. It’s an idea that’s going to reverberate not only throughout the State of New York, but throughout this country.”

Advocates for reducing the cost of college education, such as Sanders, hope that if Cuomo’s plan is implemented other states will soon follow suit. Tennessee and Oregon currently have plans that cover tuition at community colleges, so the idea is that if New York expands on their effort, other states will step on the bandwagon.

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The student-run news site of Le Moyne College.
Governor Cuomo Proposes Plan to Eliminate Tuition from Public Colleges in New York State