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The Excelsior Scholarship: New York Offers Free Tuition

As part of the 2017 Middle Class Recovery Act, New York has officially passed its initiative to offer free tuition at two- and four-year public colleges and universities — all the colleges that fall under the SUNY system.

Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo originally proposed the free tuition plan. Known as the Excelsior Scholarship, in-state students whose families earn $100,000 or less will be eligible for the free tuition. By 2019, that number will rise to $125,000.

There are some concerns. The biggest one comes from private colleges and universities. The governor’s office, according to CBS News, estimates that fewer than 2 percent of students who will take advantage of free tuition will be transfers from private institutions. At this point, it’s impossible to ascertain whether Excelsior will translate to Exodus.

Zack Friedman, writing for Forbes, also points out that tuition-free isn’t exactly “free.” There’s still the five-figure room and board cost, plus fees, plus supplies that a student must contend with — none of which is covered under the plan. Transportation expenses are another hidden cost. AS CNN Money makes plain, students could still pay $14,000 a year.

Regardless, New York is a state where families are in need. In New York, a full 80 percent of households — 940,000 families across New York — will qualify for what is touted as the nation’s first accessible public college program for the middle class. In short, most of the state makes $125,000 a year or less

Gov. Cuomo points out the change in society that necessitates the need for this initiative: simply put, college is today what high school was 50 years ago. College is now necessary not only for a student’s continued success, but also for the economic recovery of New York State.

“This is a difference government can make,” Cuomo said. “There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, ‘I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because mommy and daddy can’t afford it.’ Every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

The estimate for the program’s cost will be $163 million. Citing the prohibitively expensive costs of textbooks — something every student quickly learns — the state is also investing $8 million for low or no-cost learning materials, including e-books.

There are stipulations, however. For one, students must maintain a certain class load and GPA. Room and board will not be covered. Students must also agree to live and work in New York after graduating — for the same number of years as they received the scholarship.

And what is being saved, exactly?

As CNBC points out, New York’s average in-state tuition is $7,710 a year for 2016-17, and that cost is actually the 12th cheapest nationwide. The state, and probably the nation, likely will be asking the same question: Is this a good deal?

By Sean Hill, Senior Content Writer, Capture Higher Ed

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