Cuomo, Hillary Make College 'Free' in New York...With Caveats

Posted April 19, 2017

The governor's idea was commendable - make SUNY and CUNY schools tuition-free for students with household incomes up to $100,000 (rising to $125,000 by 2019). Unlike other proposals, after graduating participants must live and work in the state for the same number of years as they received the scholarship. In this fashion, runaway tuition inflation has hindered access not only to private universities, but also to public colleges meant to provide a solid, affordable college education for in-state students.

Some are anxious that the Excelsior Scholarship won't be fully effective without more funding for higher education, and that the scholarships' eligibility requirements leave too many students unable to take advantage of it.

There is a $200-per-year increase in SUNY and CUNY tuition as part of the budget plan. "New York State's program could be more beneficial for struggling students by waiving tuition upfront and allowing grant aid to cover other college costs such as books, fees and living expenses".

"That will make this place a better place and this scholarship program is going to transform lives", the governor predicted.

But Cuomo dismissed the criticism when asked about it at the annual Easter Egg Hunt on Saturday; he took a swipe at The New York Times instead.

Unintentionally, those who understandably balk at taking out the equivalent of a home mortgage for an undergraduate degree deter less academically gifted or economically fortunate students from attaining a higher education.

There are more qualifications, but community colleges do count. For students to be eligible for the program, they must be enrolled at a SUNY or CUNY two or four-year college full-time.

Of course, it goes without saying that tuition is hardly the only variable in the cost of attending a modern American college, and the scholarship is not without its caveats.

The cost of college is a major problem because it straddles students with debt.

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Personally, I don't think New Yorkers should cover the cost of a student's college education only to see that student relocate to another state upon graduation. "At a time when racism and anti-immigrant bigotry are being enacted as Federal policy, NY must do better".

The proposed state investment would amount to $4,000 per student, substantially more than the NY program.

North Carolina's new Governor, Roy Cooper, has been traveling around the state pushing his higher education concept called, "NC Grow". "Without adequate state funding, CUNY can not support the smaller classes, expanded faculty mentorship, improved advisement, and increased support services that are proven to improve graduation rates", she said. If students move out of the state the scholarship is converted to a loan to be repaid.

"That could be a condition that might stump students, who might say, 'You know, I'm only getting $1,000 a year, I don't want to be locked into working in NY, because I may want to export and move to another state, '" said Tramuta. Scholarships for students in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) come with agreements for military service after graduation. Many of them attend part time and take extra years to earn their degrees, so Excelsior will not help them.

"There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, I have great dreams, but I don't believe I'll be able to get a college education because parents can't afford it", Cuomo said. These students would not benefit from the program, and indeed, approximately 90 percent of students in New York's community colleges would receive no aid from the Excelsior program. The likely end product of our higher education industrial complex is a 22-year-old forced to dig out of a fiscal hole by favoring immediate paychecks over innate passions.

If Mr. Cuomo had succeeded as governor, he'd be confident that recent graduates would want to stay in the state without either being bribed by a scholarship or being threatened to have to pay it back. He said staying in the state for a year wouldn't be a burden because his family is here. Joe Percoco, a former aide and confidante whom Cuomo has likened to a brother, is expected to head to trial this fall in a federal bribery case involving Cuomo's economic development programs.

"This is a killer", said Sara Goldrick-Rab, a leading expert on college affordability and a professor at Temple University.

Perhaps he will ask New Yorks representatives in Congress to pass a “Fugitive Scholarship-Winner Act, ” compelling to other states to capture and return any scholarship victor who ventures beyond New Yorks boundaries.

The free college tuition movement neatly aligns two forces.