Legislature Changes Cuomo's Free Tuition Plan

Mar 16, 2017

Sen. Bernie Sanders joined Gov. Cuomo when he announced his tuition-free proposal January 3rd.
Credit Gov. Cuomo's flickr page

The legislature’s one house budgets make some changes to Governor Cuomo’s $163 million proposal to offer free tuition at public colleges in New York to some middle class students. 

Governor Cuomo’s plan would have the state pay for the tuition of students at public colleges and universities whose combined family income is up to $125,000 a year, when the plan is fully phased in in two years. 

It does not cover room and board, books and mandatory fees, which can cost students up to twice as much as the $6,470 a year in tuition costs at the State University system, and $6,330 at the City University system. 

Cuomo’s point man for the free tuition plan, Jim Malatras, spoke at a forum sponsored by the budget watch dog group The Empire Center. 

“This is not free college,” Malatras said. “This is free tuition.”

Malatras until very recently was Governor Cuomo’s chief of staff, he is now President of SUNY’s Rockefeller Institute.

The plan, known as the Excelsior scholarship program, includes incentives to ensure that more students graduate on time, including requiring that each year, students complete the full time requirement of 30 credits per year.

Marc Cohen the Student Assembly President for the State University of New York, says the plan addresses the fact that a bachelor’s degree has become the new high school diploma, and necessary for most types of decent paying employment. But he says he wishes there were more in it to help recent graduates who owe tens of thousands of dollars in student debt, among other things. 

More needs to be done,” Cohen said.

Another negative, at least in the eyes of New York’s more than 100 private colleges, is that they are completely left out of the plan.

Mary Beth Labate is the head of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities.

 “It’s really hard to compete with free,” Labate said.

She predicts that some private colleges will close, and others will lay off faculty, impacting the already unsteady upstate economy. She says some private colleges are already postponing planned capital projects, in anticipation of the potential loss of students to public colleges.

Labate says it would be better to expand New York’s existing Tuition Assistance Plan, or TAP,  to provide more money and to cover New Yorkers with higher incomes. TAP can be used at both public and private schools.