Free Tuition Program Passed

Governor Cuomo gave a press release on April 8 announcing the new Excelsior Program, which would offer free tuition to all New York State universities (SUNY) and colleges (CUNY)  for low-income residents.  The recently approved program makes New York the first state to offer free tuition in any form.

Cuomo argued, “Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it. The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make.”

The press release announces a newly approved budget for education that offers “a record $7.5 billion in total support for higher education, a $448 million, or 6.3 percent, increase over last year.”  In addition to a free tuition, the funding will go towards increased resources for TAP, ‘Get On Your Feet’ Loan Forgiveness Program, and an $8 million allocation for open education resources for SUNY and CUNY students.

The Higher Education Service Corporation (HESC) states the requirements plainly on its website. “If you are a NYS resident whose family household adjusted gross income does not exceed $100,000 for the 2017-18 academic year and you complete 30 credits per year, you will be able to attend a SUNY or CUNY college tuition free.”

In future years the cap for family income will increase.  The following year will include families with a gross income of up to $110,000.  From 2019 and beyond a family earning up to $125,000 can qualify. Students already enrolled in a SUNY or CUNY institution can also benefit from the new program.

The intention behind the additional funding, according to its press release, is to work towards “alleviating crushing burden of student debt and placing more New Yorkers on path to financial security.”  Of families who meet the economic standards, 80% are calculated to qualify for the program.

Students who meet the monetary requirements must be consistently on track to graduate in four years with a passing grade point average (GPA) in order to maintain their free tuition.  Graduates are then required to live in New York State for as many years as they benefited from the Excelsior Program.  During that time they are not allowed to work in another state.  Moving or working outside of New York during that period would result in the remaining years’ worth of tuition converting into loans.

Other private colleges, including Daemon and D’Youville, have expressed concerns in outlets such as the “Buffalo News” for how the change will impact their institutions.  While the Excelsior program will offer private institutions like Houghton increased Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) funding, the additional funding comes with a stipulation that the school “provide a dollar match and freeze that student’s tuition” until graduation.  The state financial aid per Houghton student is up to $3,000 for students from family incomes of less than $100,000 a year.  The aid the same student would receive over double the aid from a SUNY or CUNY institution.

The schools’ presidents also voiced their fears that the lure of free tuition would draw potential students away from private colleges, even when a private education would be a better fit.

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