New York Is Now the First State to Offer Free College Tuition

new york free college tuition

Getting a college education for free — sounds like a pipe-dream right? Well, New York state lawmakers have decided to make it a reality for students in their state thanks to a new state budget bill they just passed.

The new budget bill includes the proposal Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) announced this past January to make public colleges tuition-free for students and families residing in New York with household incomes of $125,000 or less each year.

So when Gov. Cuomo signs the budget into law, it will include funding for free college tuition. That means New York will be the first state to put a policy into action that grants free tuition assistance to students.

Here’s what the plan to give New York students free tuition looks like in action, and why Gov. Cuomo feels so strongly about it.

New York free college tuition is now a reality for eligible students

“College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success,” Gov. Cuomo said in an announcement earlier this year.

He pointed out that while New York has more than 7.5 million jobs, 70 percent of jobs within the state require a college education.

“Society should say, ‘We’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful,’” added Cuomo. “And New York State — New York State is going to do something about it.”

That’s why free tuition will be available to New York resident students attending two-year community colleges and four-year institutions throughout the state. New York currently has the largest public university system in the U.S., according to the Associated Press.

Tuition for eligible schools would be paid for through a fund called the Excelsior Scholarship.

“What Gov. Cuomo is proposing is a revolutionary idea in higher education,” said Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT), who joined Cuomo during his new policy announcement on Jan. 3. Sanders pushed for similar policies to make public colleges free during his 2016 presidential bid.

How the Excelsior Scholarship makes in-state colleges tuition-free

The Excelsior Scholarship program will cover full tuition and fees costs for in-state colleges starting this fall. Currently, the average annual tuition for four-year colleges in New York is $6,470 annual, and about $4,350 at two-year colleges.

These costs will be fully covered for students whose families meet the income eligibility requirements. These will be phased in over the next three years to reach the $125,000 mark. Here’s a breakdown of the income caps for free-tuition eligibility:

  • 2017-2018 income cap is $100,000
  • 2018-2019 income cap rises to $110,000
  • 2019-2020 income cap will reach $125,000 and remain there

In addition to meeting the $125,000 income cap, students will also have to earn 30 credits a school year to receive the scholarship.

While the Excelsior Scholarship will cover tuition costs, there are other educational costs that families will still need to cover. For instance, it won’t cover room and board for students living on-campus, which can cost as much as $14,000 a year.

Additionally, graduates might have to limit their post-college job search to New York state. That’s because students who use the program to pay for college are required to live and work in New York state for an equal number of years that they received funding.

Students who benefit from the Excelsior Scholarship then move out of state after graduation will see their scholarship convert to a student loan.

Excelsior Scholarship could cost New York $163 million

It’s still unclear exactly how much the Excelsior Scholarship program will cost. New York state already has a tuition assistance program in place that provides up to $5,156 for grant recipients and costs $1 billion a year, according to the New York Times.

What’s more, 940,000 families have college-aged children and would qualify for the free tuition program. This could cost New York as much as $163 million by 2019. However, critics of the plan say that this projection is too low and that the bill will likely cost more.

Free tuition could lessen New York student loan balances

So how much would free tuition actually help students attending New York public colleges?

Currently, the average student loan balance for a New York graduate is $32,200, according to the Associated Press. In-state tuition, however, is around $6,500 a year — or $26,000 for four years. Therefore, students may still end up borrowing $6,200 to cover that gap.

That $32,200 balance, however, reflects loan balances for students of all New York schools, including high-priced private schools. So if tuition is covered, many students may find it easier to cover the rest of their college costs through part-time jobs and potential financial assistance from their parents.

And even if students receiving the Excelsior Scholarship do take on student loan debt, a $6,200 balance will be much easier for them to deal with than $32,200. That’s for sure.

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