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Reports from Policy Analysts

New York State Offers Free College Tuition

Submitted On: Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Analyst: Kulnis, Derek

Analyst: Derek Kulnis

April 11, 2017

New York State passed a $153 billion budget this past week that included what it called the Excelsior Scholarship, which offers free tuition to any New Yorker accepted to a community college or four-year public university.

New York is the first state in America to offer free tuition at its four year public universities, although several states such as Tennessee, Oregon and Minnesota, offer free tuition at their community colleges for in-state students.

According to Mary Emily O’Hara, an “estimated 80 percent of New York State's families with college-age kids could use the new program,” as it provides free tuition for students from families earning $125,000 or less per year.

Monica Disare in Chalkbeat New York explains that “access to the Excelsior Scholarship will be widened over time, with a household income limit of $100,000 this year, $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019. In New York City, the governor’s office estimates, 84 percent of families with college-age students would be financially eligible.”

In order to receive the free tuition, students must enroll full-time and take thirty credits per year. They also must maintain a minimum GPA and cannot be undocumented immigrants.

While the Cuomo administration has emphasized the historic nature of the move, critics have pointed out that there are a number of contentious aspects in the plan, including the requirement that students stay in New York state for the same number of years as they received the benefit. Should students leave the state, they will have to pay the money back in the form of a loan.

The requirement that students stay in state after graduation was a late addition to the budget and was not in Cuomo’s original proposal. Sara Goldrick-Rab, an intellectual architect of the push towards free college tuition, contends that “free college is about moving beyond a complex, untrustworthy aid system. This move perpetuates existing problems.”

Another issue that critics commented on is related to affordability.  Jordan Weissman in Slate explains that while tuition is one major cost of college, it is not the only expense.  He states that “at New York's public colleges, room and board is often the biggest cost. For students attending the state's flagship school, SUNY-Binghamton, it's more than $14,000, versus $6,470 for tuition.”

Scott Jaschik of Inside Higher Ed explained that the budget deal also included eight million dollars “for promoting and distributing open educational resources (free online education materials) for SUNY and CUNY students” and that it would include a new grant program for students attending private colleges in the state with a maximum award of $3,000.

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