New York first state to introduce tuition-free college

Julia Dossler, Staff Reporter
Originally published June 19, 2017

Julia Dossler

Julia Dossler

In New York, a revolutionary idea has been set into motion: tuition-free college. Those who support this initiative expect the program to be fully functional before next fall, with tens of thousands of working and middle-class students considered eligible in New York alone. This will not only increase enrollment at New York universities, but will also make college attendance possible for many students who perhaps ruled out college due to cost.

This grant is called the Excelsior Scholarship. It was introduced in Jan. 2017 by the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo. The scholarship applies to all SUNY (State Universities of New York) and CUNY (City Universities of New York) schools, which are public. This includes public community colleges. This free-tuition initiative applies only to public universities, because they are funded by their respective state (as opposed to private universities, which are privately funded).

According to a Jan. article in the Albany, NY – based publication, Times Union, only students of families making $100,000 or less per year are eligible for tuition-free college. Next year, the cap will be raised by $10,000, and in 2019 the cap will reach its maximum of $125,000.

Students who fit financially in this range must also complete 30 credits per year once they are in college. Required credit completion is being debated, critics citing part-time students as prime examples of unfair or unfeasible standards.

It is estimated that, although a large majority of one’s tuition would be paid for them, one would still have to pay out of pocket for room and board. It is estimated that this source of spending alone could cost students up to $12,000. Students must also work in New York to continue receiving free tuition benefits from this scholarship. According to the college board, 60 percent of public high school students take out federal loans for college.

Currently, students who take out loans may not be able to fully pay them back until long after their college years. “It’s like starting a race with an anchor tied to your leg,” Cuomo said of the looming nature of student debt in a New York Times interview. The Excelsior Scholarship was devised, in part, to relieve working-class and middle-class students of many sources of debt that students face.

Application forms for the program are expected to be released in late May, a date which occurs after “decision day” (May 1st – when graduating students commit to a college to which they have been accepted). This application deadline will run through July before it closes.

While the Excelsior program was created to be simple as possible for interested families after having committed to a school, prospective students face yet another hurdle in the lengthy succession of steps followed to apply to colleges.“[The students] do need to make a decision and they need to make that decision without knowing for certain that [they] would be eligible,” said Cheri Perrillo, SUNY assistant vice chancellor for enrollment services, this month.

“The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students,” Cuomo said in an announcement last month. “With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”