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Cuomo’s College Controversy

Julia Fay

Free college tuition.

This idea has become increasingly popular and was one of Bernie Sanders’s biggest campaign promises. His idea, that “every person in this country… should be able to get all the education they need regardless of… income” has gained popularity among some state and local governments despite the election results.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders recently announced that New York is going to be the first state in the country to provide free tuition to a wide variety of students attending two and four-year public universities starting this fall.

This program provides undergraduate students who meet income requirements with “Excelsior Scholarships” to any city or state university in New York.

Once the scholarship is granted to a student, he or she must continue to meet the minimum GPA requirements and be enrolled in at least 30 credits per year.

The state’s program will be rolled out in tiers over the next three years, starting with full coverage of four-year college tuition this fall for students whose families make less than $100,000; the maximum income will then increase to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019.

However, there are many behind-the-scenes problems with this seemingly flawless idea.

The program only covers annual tuition, which means that room and board aren’t included in the scholarships. This is a problem, because tuition only accounts for about a quarter of the total cost of attending a public college or university in New York, so families would still be required to pay significant amounts of money for the other aspects of attending college, besides just the tuition. Additionally, many federal and state aid programs only address tuition costs as well, so this program wouldn’t significantly assist low-income students.

It doesn’t cover full tuition for private schools. Instead, a new grant program will be created for students who attend private colleges in the state, with a maximum award of only $3,000.

Private colleges would also be required to match the grants, and to freeze tuition for the duration of a student’s grant.

After graduation, students have to live and work in New York for the same number of years they received scholarship money or pay back all the money they received.

This could force recent graduates to stay in New York even if unemployed instead of being able to work in another state, which is extremely limiting to students as it narrows their already tough job search to a specific state.

Freshman Peter Smith feels that this is a negative aspect of an overall “step in the right direction,” because “…it forces people to stay in a high-rent area. Graduates will be thrust back into an urbanized, expensive environment where they might not be able to get a job right away.”

Another issue to consider is that the money required for this plan will still have to be generated somehow, whether it be from increased taxes or spending cuts for other programs such as infrastructure, etc.. “Free” college tuition is a myth: it won’t be free, just paid for in other ways.

When asked about his opinion on the deal, College Counselor Matt Struckmeyer said, “The issue is not so much affordability, it’s people unprepared to do the work, so just making it free doesn’t solve the problem when you have a huge number of students who show up to college and do not have the skills from high school to succeed in any college course.”

Struckmeyer pointed out that some students who qualify for the scholarship may not be prepared to excel in college classes, so these students will get money from the government but won’t necessarily succeed in college.

Therefore, he believes the money for this program could be spent in better ways, such as “universal preschool,” because that would create a strong foundation for education and would help produce more motivated students who have a passion for learning. The skills these kids learned at a young age would then help them succeed in the future.

Since we already have federal, state and institutional forms of aid, what we need now are programs that integrate those different funders.

While the New York idea is on the right track, its specific policies generate issues and don’t fully address the problem of expensive college tuition.

There are still issues to consider.

 

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