Everything You Need To Know About New York’s Free College Program

With the approval of Governor Cuomo’s legislation to make 2-year and 4-year public colleges free for qualifying residents, New York has become a beacon for accessible higher education.  Full disclosure, as an educator, I like this legislation.  I think it makes college a reality for so many kids that it never would have been otherwise.  Take that bias into account when you’re reading the rest of this article, and feel free to call me out if you don’t think something I am saying is accurate.

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Talking to people over the last couple weeks about this it really seems like there is more misinformation floating around than actual information so hopefully I can clear some of that up.  Here are (hopefully) the answers to all your questions on the new legislation.

What even is this program everyone is talking about?  First of all the program is called the Excelsior Scholarship (no word yet on if Stan Lee is filing suit over the use of his trademark word) and it is a scholarship that will pay for the full price of tuition for either a 2 or 4 year public university.

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Who qualifies?  As of right now you will qualify for this scholarship if you are a New York resident heading to a public university (a SUNY or CUNY) for your first undergraduate degree and your household makes less than $100,000 annually.  In three years that threshold will change to $125,000 annually.  According to the Governor’s office around 940,000 families will qualify.

What does the scholarship cover?  Only tuition, so things like textbooks, room and board, and other educational expenses are still the responsibility of the student, though the Governor also added an 8 million dollar piece to this plan that goes towards creating more free online educational materials for public colleges as well.  The goal with that is to cut down on the price of textbooks.

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So whose paying for all these kids to get a free education?  Wont tuition go up for the students that don’t qualify to compensate?  The short answer is the state will be paying for it.  They have allocated $163 million from the state budget over the next three years to fund the program.  Opponents of the scholarship claim that this wont be nearly enough to cover all of the students that will qualify but only time will tell there.  To answer your second question, tuition may increase, but not by any more than it would normally.  According to the College Board, the price of 4 year public colleges have increased every year by anywhere between 0.4% and 8.3%.  The legislation does say that public colleges can only increase their tuition by $200 a year for the next three years so that actually may curb the trend in rising tuition a bit.

Does that mean that teacher’s will get paid less?  Nope, the program calls for the state to pay for tuition, it doesn’t actually change the tuition so any change in school spending will be a result of the school and have nothing to do with this program.

So what’s the catch?  Well there are a couple of qualifications that have several people up in arms over this new plan.  The first and biggest one is that once you graduate from college you have to stay in New York State for the same amount of time you received funds.  So if you went to a four year college, you have to stay in New York for four years after graduation.  There are some exceptions, if you go on to grad school out of state that’s fine, the same goes for military enrollment.  Opponents to the measure say that this will be a huge hindrance to job prospects for graduates but the Governor’s office view this more as protecting their investment.  If the state is going to pay for your education they want you to put that education to good use in the state.  They also state the statistic that 84% of all graduates of NY public colleges stay in state after graduation anyway as a reason this really isn’t a big deal.

The other requirement states that while you are getting this scholarship you need to be a full time student taking 30 credits a year.  There are folks that are saying for students that need to work to pay for their books and living arrangements during the school year, this may be an overwhelming burden and are suggesting this requirement should have been 24.  According to Tom Sugar, President of the non profit: Complete College America, “The program’s 30-credit requirement ― which has been criticized by some ― is a research-proven strategy to raise GPAs, increase retention rates and ultimately boost college completion in the state.”  This quote came from a statement he made to The Huffington Post.

So what are people opposed to the plan saying?  I highlighted a couple of the points earlier including the issues with staying in state after graduation and many claiming the state isn’t setting aside enough money in the budget but there are more.  Some are claiming that this plan won’t actually help that many people since there are such strong financial aid programs already in place for low income families that many don’t pay anything for tuition at public colleges.  The downside of this program is that those students wont receive any additional help with room and board or books which is where they really need the financial support.  Following this line of thinking many educational policy experts are saying this program isn’t going far enough to increase higher education accessibility for the lowest income families in New York and that the real backbreaking cost of college are those expenses outside of tuition.

There is also a school of thought that claims if tuition is paid for students will lose motivation.  While there are some studies that seem to support this, including one study that shows states with lower tuition costs have higher class drop rates, the Governor’s team feels that the 30 credit stipulation will act as that extrinsic motivator without the financial burden attached.  Again only time will tell.

Hopefully this clears up any misconceptions you have about the new college tuition program in NYC.  Again, my opinion on the bill (for whatever that’s worth) is that it’s a great step towards making education accessible for more people.  It is true that the lowest income families in New York already have their tuition covered, but if your household is making less than $100,000 a year you are still going to be struggling to pay for college and will undoubtedly have to take out student loans to cover some costs.  This law will hopefully lower the amount of crippling student loan debt most college graduates are starting their working lives with.

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There are many more opinions out there and I want to hear them, so what do you think?  Leave a comment below, and check out my sources also linked below for more info!  Thanks for reading!

❤ Keough

https://trends.collegeboard.org/college-pricing/figures-tables/tuition-and-fees-and-room-and-board-over-time-2006-07_2016-17

https://www.insidehighered.com/news/2017/04/17/new-yorks-tuition-free-college-program-sparks-debates-and-defenses

http://money.cnn.com/2017/04/10/pf/college/suny-cuny-tuition-free-college/index.html?iid=EL

https://www.ny.gov/programs/tuition-free-degree-program-excelsior-scholarship

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/new-york-free-college-low-income_us_58ee4af2e4b08c15f0db9d15

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