By Gianluca Russo
College decisions will soon become much easier with Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s free college tuition initiative. Announced in early January at LaGuardia Community College alongside senator Bernie Sanders, the new plan will use federal funds to cover in-state tuition costs for thousands of eligible applicants.
“This society should say, ‘We’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful,’” said Gov. Cuomo. “And New York State — New York State is going to do something about it.
Applications for the Excelsior Scholarship are available now through July 21. By the end of the first available day to apply, over 3,000 students had filled out the application.
To be eligible, students must be residents of New York State and plan to attend a SUNY or CUNY two or four-year degree program. Household income of students must be $100,000 or less to qualify. Students must take 30 credits per year and make progress towards graduation, maintain a good academic standing, be on track to graduate on time with an Associate’s Degree in two years or a Bachelor’s Degree in four years.
Gov. Cuomo estimates that the new plan will help around a million New York families with potential college applicants. With college attendance and graduation rates dropping over the past few years, specifically at community colleges, the Excelsior Scholarship is intended to boost enrollment dramatically.
SUNY Chairman H. Carl McCall commented on the Gov. Cuomo’s plan, saying, “Governor Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship Program takes college affordability to a dramatic new level. This plan positions New York State as the first in the nation to not only provide free tuition for students from low- and- middle-income families pursuing two- and- four-year degrees, but to also go a step further, incentivizing full-time enrollment and college completion – both of which are proven game changers in students’ success.”
Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher added: “This is what college affordability is all about. Governor Cuomo’s plan will ensure true success for our students while also protecting the state’s investment in public higher education. SUNY strongly supports the Excelsior Scholarship Program and we will be making it a top priority in the upcoming budget session.”
New York will be the first state implementing a free college tuition plan for both four year universities and community colleges, whereas Tennessee and Oregon have plans covering only community college costs. Some, however, are concerned with how much Gov. Cuomo’s plan will cost the state. While no definite cost has been announced, the administration has estimated that the plan will cost somewhere near $163 million. This number largely depends on the number of eligible students who participate.
Others are concerned that the costs of college tuition will increase as more students are able to attend for free, leaving non-eligible students with a higher after-graduation debt. Private colleges are concerned that the new plan and budget will decrease their admission numbers. The budget proposes that state funding be taken away from private colleges that increase tuition by more than $500 yearly.
However, the SUNY Student Assembly is standing firm with Cuomo’s new plan, saying that it will benefit a tremendous number of students. “Millions of SUNY students have realized the potential of a college degree and have gone on to earn more money, live longer, lead healthier lives, and achieve more fulfilling careers,” says President and Trustee Marc J. Cohen. “It is incredibly exciting to hear the Governor’s plans to make the SUNY promise of opportunity one afforded to all New Yorkers regardless of their zip code or their bank statement. The Excelsior Scholarship is an important facet of this march toward greater access, and we hope for its success. While optimistic and supportive of any form of college affordability, we realize that there are many important logistics yet to be determined, and we eagerly await those details. Ensuring that the program is both inclusive and comprehensive is paramount.”