ALBANY – Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to offer free college tuition to low to middle income students in New York.
On Tuesday the governor unveiled the first signature proposal of his 2017 agenda: making college tuition-free for New York’s middle-class families at all SUNY and CUNY two- and four-year colleges.
The governor said New York’s tuition-free college degree program, the Excelsior Scholarship, is the first of its kind in the nation and will help alleviate the crushing burden of student debt while enabling thousands of bright young students to realize their dream of higher education.
“The Excelsior Scholarship, which says, very simply, free tuition to a state two-year school or a four-year school if you come from any family earning $125,000 or less,” the Governor explained during a special announcement on Tuesday.
The new initiative will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019. More than 940,000 middle-class families and individuals would qualify.
According to the governor, the Excelsior Scholarship program will ensure that students statewide, regardless of their socio-economic status, have the opportunity to receive a quality education and gain the skills they need to succeed in our global economy.
“College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success. And the way this society said, ‘We’re going to pay for high school, because you need high school,’ this society should say, ‘We’re going to pay for college, because you need college to be successful.'”
Cuomo also said that the initiative will work by leveraging New York State’s generous aid programs. Currently, the Tuition Assistance Program or TAP provides nearly $1 billion in grants to college students statewide and New York is one of only two states in the nation that offers this type of entitlement. Under the Excelsior program, eligible students would still receive TAP and any applicable federal grants. Additional state funds would cover the remaining tuition costs for incoming or existing eligible students.
Based on enrollment projections, the plan will cost approximately $163 million per year once fully phased in.
Governor Cuomo was joined by U.S. Senator and unsuccessful presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, who made free tuition a platform in his unsuccessful bid for president. Sanders said that if the United States is to succeed in a highly competitive global economy, we need the best educated workforce in the world.
The proposal would have to be approved by the state legislature before going into effect.
LOCAL OFFICIALS COMMENT ON EXCELSIOR PROPOSAL
Chautauqua County’s representative in the Senate, Cathy Young (R-Olean), is the chair of the Senate’s finance committee. Following the announcement by Cuomo, Young released the following statement:
“The State Senate has been very supportive of higher education and tuition assistance programs because achieving a college education can open the door for countless opportunities and an enhanced quality of life. Like every budget proposal, this idea will receive intense review, analysis and discussion. Not only do we need to have the infrastructure for access to high-quality education, but we also need to protect our taxpayers and our economy from being suffocated by a heavier tax burden. We look forward to receiving more information when the State Budget is released by the Governor.”
Jamestown Community College officials say the Excelsior program would be great news for current and prospective JCC students.
JCC president Cory Duckworth said in a media release that if the proposal is approved, JCC would expect to see many more students engage in its educational programs.
Duckworth also noted his interest in examining the plan’s details which are said to encourage college enrollment and promote preparation for college and consistent progress toward degree completion once enrolled, saying that these are currently three of the biggest challenges JCC faculty and staff face every day in their work at the college.
“A reduction in student debt will lift a huge burden from the backs of our graduates who are struggling to get started in life,” said Dr. Duckworth. “In addition, the extra earning power they gain from their degrees will propel them forward economically in very substantial ways.”
Tuition at JCC is currently $4,630 while tuition is $6,470 for undergraduate programs at SUNY and CUNY.
Meanwhile, Jamestown Mayor Sam Teresi also supports the proposal.
“In order for New York to remain a leader in today’s global economy, we must support our middle-class families and ensure the young men and women of this state have the tools needed to succeed in the 21st century economy. By providing a tuition-free college education to eligible New Yorkers, Governor Cuomo’s proposal will transform our business landscape by giving hundreds of thousands of bright and promising students the opportunity to make their dreams a reality. I commend the Governor for this groundbreaking proposal and always fighting to rebuild our middle-class,” Teresi said.
WRFA also reached out to Assemblyman Andy Goodell on Tuesday night, but he was unavailable for immediate comment.