New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is working to make New York the first state to offer free tuition at all its public colleges and universities.
Cuomo’s $163 million plan, which was announced last month and requires approval by the state legislature, would provide free tuition to residents whose families earn less than $125,000 per year to any of New York’s state universities (State University of New York or SUNY), city colleges (City University of New York or CUNY) or community colleges.
“A college education is not a luxury – it is an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility, and with these first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarships, we’re providing the opportunity for New Yorkers to succeed, no matter what zip code they come from and without the anchor of student debt weighing them down,” Cuomo said in a statement.
Is It Really Free?
According to the State University of New York, tuition for state residents is $6,470 for the current academic year. Tuition for the current academic year for residents at City University of New York schools and community colleges is $6,330 and $4,350, respectively.
While tuition would be provided through the Excelsior Scholarship and supplement existing state and federal loans and grants, students would be responsible for room, board and other fees:
SUNY Non-Tuition Costs
- Room and Board: $12,590
- Fees: $1,590
- Books & Supplies: $1,340
Total = $15,520 (excludes personal expenses of $1,560 and transportation expenses of $1,080)
CUNY Non-Tuition Costs (for a student living away from home)
- Room and Board: $10,386
- Fees: $640
- Books & Supplies: $1,364
Total = $12,390 (excludes personal expenses of $4,208 and transportation expenses of $1,054)
Community Colleges Non-Tuition Costs
- Room and Board: $10,380
- Fees: $630
- Books & Supplies: $1,320
Total = $12,300 (excludes personal expenses of $1,160 and transportation expenses of $1,280)
Free tuition is not available to all New Yorkers. To qualify, there are several requirements to receive free tuition:
- New York resident for at least the past year
- Full-time student at SUNY, CUNY or community college
- Your family (or you and your spouse) must earn an adjusted gross income less than $100,000 in 2017 (the income threshold increases to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019).
Under the current proposal, while there is no minimum grade point average requirement, a student would need to complete 15 credits per semester. Some critics argue that 120 credit hours over four years is challenging and hurts part-time students (who are considered ineligible under the current proposal).
New York has the largest public university system in the country, with 440,000 students across 64 campuses. New York spends about $10.6 billion per year on higher education.
Cuomo initially projected that 200,000 students will benefit over a three year period. However, during her testimony at a January 24 budget hearing with state legislators, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher testified that only 80,000 students would be eligible for the program.
According to SUNY, 58% of its resident undergraduates currently receive a Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) award, with 67% of that population receiving a full TAP award of $5,165. That means that more than half of SUNY’s resident undergraduate currently receive tuition assistance, and nearly 40% receive full tuition assistance.
Increased Enrollment, Decreased Student Loans
The current proposal hopes to increase college enrollment as much as 10%, according to Cuomo. This also may encourage more applicants to apply to college, particularly those who previously could not afford to due to financial hardship. Those student who qualify for tuition-free benefit also would have to borrow less in student loans to fund their college education – itself an important public policy benefit.
Make Lemonade can help you learn more about student loan options:
Is free college tuition a viable solution to help address the student loan crisis? Should New York cover the cost of room, board and all other fees? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Zack Friedman is the founder of Make Lemonade, a personal finance website with free financial tips, tools and reviews to help save you money on your student loans, personal loans, investments, banking, credit cards and more. Follow Zack on Twitter and read his columns in Forbes.