New York may have changed the game when it comes to higher education. The state recently passed a bill to provide free tuition to students in certain circumstances. This program, called the Excelsior Scholarship, will cover the cost of classes (after all other scholarships and grants are applied). Eligible students, however, still must cover their room and board, food, books, and fees.
Projections indicate this program could translate to savings of more than $26,000 over the course of four years, bringing the total cost from $83,000 to $57,000. However, most students won’t be eligible for the program. To qualify, you must be a traditional student, meaning you enter college right after high school and earn your two- or four-year degree on time.
The Future of Free College
Will other states jump on the bandwagon? It’s hard to say. Some legislators believe the Excelsior Scholarship is a breakthrough that lays the foundation for other states to build upon. Left-leaning states such as California are likely to follow suit because they are strongly aligned with supporters of the bill such as Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton.
In fact, Assembly Bill 1356 is currently being tossed around in California. If passed, the bill would add a 1 percent tax on households earning over $1 Million per year to be put in a financial aid fund that could be combined with other scholarships to cover the cost of tuition and fees for students at state colleges and universities. Many like-minded political leaders are calling this program a step forward for progression in our country.
However, it’s also likely that other states will wait to see the true impact New York’s free tuition will have. Some progressives—even those who typically support tuition-free college—deem the Excelsior Scholarship a good effort that still leaves much to be desired. Like the staggering cost of room and board, which is often as much as double the cost of tuition. Not to mention the fact that those opposing the bill question the source of the free education funding.
While taxes will cover the majority of the cost, a significant portion may also come from the students who are not eligible for the scholarship. Both State University of New York and City University of New York voted to allow for tuition increases. Each year, for the next three years, the universities can raise their tuitions by $200 per student. By 2020, tuition rates can increase as much as $600 per student. For low-income students, this can mean the difference between being able to attend on schedule or having to work during their education. Other state universities and colleges could also charge larger fees to make up for the difference in cost, adding to the expense for everyone who attends.
If the program works well and doesn’t cause undue strain on working citizens and non-qualifying students, other states may consider developing similar programs for their students. Either way, it’s a big change for the way education works in our country, and we’re excited to see what the future holds.