The state of New York is on its way to ensuring that a college education is a bit more attainable for its residents.
The state may be the first and only in the nation to offer free college tuition statewide to four-year colleges.
The proposed initiative, called the Excelsior Scholarship, aims to provide free tuition to any New York student whose family earns less than $125,000 per year. The plan requires students to be accepted to one of New York’s more than 60 state colleges and universities, including both four-and two-year programs, and maintain a certain grade point average and number of credits.
“Today, college is what high school was — it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it,” said New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo in a press release. “The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make."
"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 parents can’t afford it.”
Almost 80 percent of New York families will qualify under the income cap proposed in the program, which is set to phase in over three years, with students of families who make under $100,000 annually, qualifying for coverage this coming fall.
However, the program does have a catch. Students covered under the state-funded scholarship will be required to work in-state for the number of years they received funding following graduation. If students violate this qualifier, their previously granted tuition may be converted into student loans that must be paid back.
This caveat is one of the main criticisms voiced against the proposed program.
Critics have also pointed out that the proposed legislation doesn't include financial support for the many other costs associated with college, such as room and board.
The program builds on other college-friendly legislation in New York, such as a bill that defers qualifying student loans for two years following graduation. It also follows in the footsteps of similar models offered in the states of Tennessee and Oregon, which provides free two-year community college tuition.
The plan was negotiated as part of New York’s $163 billion dollar budget, passed Saturday by the Democratic-controlled State Assembly. The bill now moves onto the Republican-controlled Senate, for which a vote has not yet been scheduled.