There’s a lot of buzz lately about New York and free college. A program recently passed through the New York legislature, which provides free tuition for attendees of the state’s public colleges and universities. Some people are calling it a breakthrough and saying it’ll become a model for all other states. Others are worried about where the funds will come from to support this free education.
The Excelsior Scholarship
It’s important to clarify that free tuition doesn’t mean free education. You’re still required to cover all other expenses, which can be substantial. The new program is called the Excelsior Scholarship. It’s estimated that a four-year degree will cost around $26,000 less for an eligible family with a yearly income of $100,000. The projected expense will fall from $83,000 for fees, room and board, and tuition to $57,000 for these expenses.
Many self-proclaimed activists and politicians have openly supported this bill. Hilary Clinton, for example, tweeted in support of the program: “Let’s celebrate New York State getting something important done that we wanted to do nationally.” Governor Andrew Cuomo also placed a lot on Excelsior, making it a legislative priority.
Who it Benefits
The Excelsior Scholarship is designed to help traditional students, or students who enter college straight from high school, earn degrees “on time.” Unfortunately, many New York students don’t qualify for this aid. More people are attending part-time, coming back after time off, and taking extra years to finish their degrees. The Excelsior Scholarship won’t assist students in these cases.
Only students who take full-time classes and graduate in two or four years can receive assistance. The problem with this, however, is that many low-income students are forced to take an alternative schedule so they can maintain a job to help pay for their education. At community colleges, for example, 90% of the student base won’t qualify. At traditional four-year institutes, 60% would also be ineligible.
Another requirement is that you must live in New York state after you graduate for the same number of years you received aid. If you move before then, your scholarship will be converted into a loan.
Where the Money Comes From
The biggest question for many students is where does the money come from for the free tuition. One source is the exaggerated cost of room and board. Inflating these costs can make up for the difference that comes with free tuition – especially if most students don’t qualify for the financial assistance.
Other students could also see a spike in their tuition costs. For example, the state budget has room for State University of New York and City University of New York to raise their tuition rates by $200 per student, every year, for the next three years. While this might not sound like much, it will add up quickly.
The remaining balance will come from taxes. Since the state pays for these scholarships, the expense will come from the pockets of New York taxpayers. This is after the state approves a budget with larger focus on higher education.
For those who are eligible, free tuition can be helpful. For those who don’t quality, grants and scholarships may be your best bet.