Governor Cuomo proposes tuition-free college

Zoe Deno
Staff Writer

excelsior-page-001Vinny Croce| The Hudsonian

Gov. Andrew Cuomo was accompanied by U.S Senator Bernie Sanders at LaGuardia Community College on Jan. 3, to announce his plan for tuition-free college via new Excelsior Scholarships.

“A college education is not a luxury – it is an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility, and with these first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarships, we’re providing the opportunity for New Yorkers to succeed, no matter what zip code they come from and without the anchor of student debt weighing them down,” said Cuomo.

In order to be eligible, students would have to be full-time at two-year or four-year public SUNY or CUNY colleges and come from families who make less than $125,000 per year.

According to Cuomo, this would provide free tuition to 75 percent of current students enrolled in degree or certificate programs. According to James Macklin, director of the office of planning and research, an estimated 85 percent of Hudson Valley’s students will qualify.

If the proposal is passed through the State Congress, the initiative would be phased over three years, beginning for families and individuals making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 the following year, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

“A lot of details were not shared about the proposal itself. In other words, there are still questions about how it would be funded, and there are other logistics that certainly need to be analyzed, and that is the job of the state legislature, the state and the assembly,” said Dennis Kennedy, director of communications and marketing at Hudson Valley.

There is no guarantee that the New York’s State Congress will approve the Excelsior Scholarships or that the qualifiers will not change. The proposal will be discussed and revised until the end of the Senate session on April 1 when it will be voted on.
The initiative has gained a great deal of criticism and support from both political parties.

In a telephone interview, Republican Assemblymember David McDonough said that he applauds the governor for his bold proposal. As a member of the education board, McDonough will be one of the main people evaluating the Excelsior Scholarships.

“I’m not crazy about anything free because nothing is completely free,” said McDonough, raising the question of whether or not the scholarships would only cover the immediate tuition or include the costs of other books and fees that come with college.
McDonough also said that while $125,000 was a great deal of money in many of the northern counties, the cost of living is more expensive towards New York City.

“$125,000 is not a lot of money downstate. There is a much higher cost of living. I know of families who are making $250,000 a year and can’t afford to send their kids to college,” said McDonough.

Democratic Assemblymember, Patricia Fahy also was skeptical.

“In concept, it’s encouraging, I’m just very anxious to see the details given the varying costs I’ve come across. For instance, the governor mentioned the cost would be $160,000, to underwrite the cost of free tuition, but others say the estimate would be well over a half billion.”

“It’s a huge budget issue. I would hope we will make some progress on pieces of it at least, but I’ll know a little bit more when the budget comes out next week. It’s one thing to talk about a concept, it’s another on how we could pay for it while maintaining the quality of education,” Fahy continued.

While lawmakers may be concerned, Hudson Valley President Andrew Matonak was quick to express his support.

“We applaud Governor Cuomo’s groundbreaking proposal to make public higher education more affordable and accessible for New Yorkers through the Excelsior Scholarship program,” said Matonak.

“In many ways, college is the gateway to a brighter future for our students, communities and economies. Investing in our state’s human capital and providing this unprecedented opportunity for students to achieve a college degree or certificate at no cost will have myriad benefits,” continued Matonak.

“The Governor’s initiative takes that a step forward and provides potential aid to families that goes beyond what financial aid currently covers. It has the potential to open the door to higher education for more people and to make it affordable to families who are struggling with college costs,” said Kennedy.

Kennedy continued, “Hudson Valley Community College is one of the most affordable paths to higher education, so this proposal is very close to our mission.”

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