New York Gov. Cuomo unveils plan to provide ‘free’ college for middle-class students
Dubbed a “first-in-the nation program,” Democratic New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo unveiled his plan to make college tuition-free for low- and middle-income families in the largest state. Flanked by former 2016 Democratic presidential contender Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Cuomo unveiled the plan at LaGuardia Community College in Queens Tuesday morning. The proposal Should Cuomo’s plan come to fruition, students who are accepted to a public school in New York — SUNY and CUNY schools — could be eligible for free tuition as long as they or their families make $125,000 or less annually. Cuomo said that encompasses about 80 percent of New York families. The plan, called the Excelsior Scholarship, would cost approximately $163 million annually, according to the New York Times. But the state already spends about $1 billion on tuition assistance programs every year. SUNY tuition is about $6,470 for commuters and $16,320 for undergraduate students who live on campus. CUNY tuition is approximately $6,330 per year for full-time undergraduates.
Sanders, who made free college tuition a priority in his 2016 presidential campaign, heralded the plan as he, too, spoke from LaGuardia Community College. “With an exploding technology, and with most of the good-paying jobs requiring more and more education, we need to make certain that every New Yorker, every Vermonter and every American gets all the education they need regardless of family income,” he said in a statement. “In other words, we must make public colleges and universities tuition-free for the middle class and working families of our country.”
But Dr. Julie Ajinkya, vice president of applied research at the Institute for Higher Education Policy, told TheBlaze that Cuomo’s proposal does not go far enough as it “stops short of helping the students who need it the most.” “Making college tuition-free does not address the entire problem of college affordability for low- to middle-income families,” Ajinkya said. “College costs include so much more than simply tuition, including campus and system-based fees and external costs of attendance like food, transportation, childcare, books, etc.”
She added that housing costs are increasingly becoming one of the heaviest financial burdens on college students. “In order for this proposal to really have an impact on student success (i.e. increase in graduation rates) and not just access (i.e. increase in enrollment), it needs to account for those financial burdens as well,” Ajinkya said. “Otherwise we’re setting students up for failure.” But Tim Hoefer, executive director of the conservative nonprofit Empire Center, noted that while there are still many details about the Excelsior Scholarship that have not been released, the proposal does beg the question: Is it really needed? “[The proposal] gets ahead of the question of whether or not there’s actually a need for this. SUNY and CUNY tuition is already among the cheapest in the northeast,” Hoefer told TheBlaze in an interview. “So is there a need for free tuition or is the need to be better and more prepared to enter college in the first place?”
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