New York Governor Proposes Free Public College Tuition for State

on January 3, 2017

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, along with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders, D-Vermont, announced a plan today to provide free college tuition to New Yorkers earning up to $125,000. The proposal would be in effect at all State University of New York and City of New York campuses and support two- and four-year degrees. Eligible students must be enrolled full-time.

“A college education is not a luxury – it is an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility, and with these first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarships, we’re providing the opportunity for New Yorkers to succeed, no matter what zip code they come from and without the anchor of student debt weighing them down,” Cuomo said. 

The program, dubbed the Excelsior Scholarship, is aimed at curtailing the burden of student debt. According to the governor’s office, 80 percent of households in New York make $125,000 or less. An estimated 940,000 households that have college-age children will be eligible for the program.

Once fully implemented, the Excelsior Scholarship is expected to cost $163 million a year. It will be gradually phased in beginning in 2017 for families or individuals making $100,000 a year or less. People earning $110,000 or less will be eligible in 2018, and the program will be expanded to those making $125,000 or less by 2019.

“If the United States is to succeed in a highly competitive global economy, we need the best educated workforce in the world. … ,” Sanders said. “In other words, we must make public colleges and universities tuition free for the middle class and working families of our country.”

The Excelsior Scholarship is expected to be funded through New York’s aid programs, according to the governor’s office. The state currently funds almost $1 billion in grants to college students across the state.

Student debt is $1.2 trillion nationwide and has surpassed credit cards, car loans and mortgages as the largest source of debt.

Cuomo’s program is the largest of its kind enacted in the United States, but it is not the first time college tuition has been free within a state system. California offered free community college tuition until 1984-85. It is, however, the first to provide free public four-year college tuition, not just free public 2-year college tuition.

Although the program covers college tuition, it still leaves students on the hook for other costs such as textbooks and other required materials. 


[Editor's note: The New York state legislature enacted the free public college tutiion program on April 9, 2017, as part of the state budget.]

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