Free college a new reality for residents of one state


Starting this fall, the Excelsior Scholarship program will allow New York residents to access the funds needed to earn a four-year degree — tuition free.

New York is the first state in the nation to offer a free four-year degree. California, Minnesota, Oregon, and Tennessee all have two-year degree programs, but New York will be the nation’s only program of its kind.

There will be no restrictions on the amount of money provided. The requirements, beyond residency and income, are that the student maintains a 30 credit per year schedule and a qualifying GPA, and remains in the state to work — after earning a degree — for at least the same number of years spent utilizing the program.

Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) eligibility information will be included on college enrollment paperwork this spring.

The income requirements will vary. This year, families making up to $100,000 will be eligible. The income limit will rise to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019.

Roughly 80% of New York’s working- and middle- class residents are expected to be eligible for the program. An estimated 940,000 families with school-aged children will benefit, as will adults who want to seek a higher education.

According to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office, a record $7.5 billion was set aside for higher education in the new budget. “With this budget, New York has the nation’s first accessible college program. It’s a different model,” he said. The program was approved in a budget package Sunday night.

There have been some questions about how the program will work for very low-income students that might not have the money to get the additional supplies and books needed for school.

In the Bronx district that New York assemblyman Victor M. Pichardo represents, over 30% of families live below poverty line. He wonders why families below the poverty line will be getting the same amount of funding as those at the top end of the income limit.

Though Cuomo’s office has announced that New York will be investing $8 million in electronic books, in a move meant to offset the cost of supplies, critics aren’t sure it will be enough.

“Many students in my district qualify for funding opportunities like Pell Grants, EOP or TAP Awards, but still have to face the back-breaking cost of housing, food and transportation,” said Pichardo. “This program does nothing to address the needs of countless low-income students and will only end up impacting a small percentage of CUNY students.”

Senator Bernie Sanders, who made free college the backbone of his campaign for president, has been a vocal supporter of the Excelsior Scholarship. In a press conference in January, Sanders called the plan “revolutionary” and said that the idea will spread across the country. One week ago, Sanders introduced legislation meant to eliminate college tuition and debt called the College for All Act.

Sanders and Cuomo believe that a college education is no longer an option and that it is as essential as high school is to today’s American students and, therefore, should be funded by the government.

H/T: NBC News

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