State News
April 12, 2017

N.Y. will offer free public university education

First-in-the-nation program makes N.Y. state public universities tuition-free for residents making up to $125,000 per year; over 940,000 families qualify

New York will be the only state in the country to offer universal public college tuition coverage for working- and middle-class residents after the program was included in the recently approved budget package.

New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announced April 8 that the Excelsior Scholarship, a first-of-its-kind in the nation program will provide tuition-free college at New York’s public colleges and universities to families making up to $125,000 a year. The program starts this fall semester, 2017.

The Excelsior Scholarship was the Governor’s first proposal in his 2017 State of the State.

Then, in January, Cuomo paired up with Vermont’s Sen. Bernie Sanders at a press conference to announce plans for the Excelsior Scholarship. Free college was a central element of Sanders’ presidential campaign platform.

“Today what Gov. Cuomo is proposing is a revolutionary idea for higher education,” said Sanders at the January press conference. “And it’s an idea that is going to reverberate not only throughout the state of New York, but throughout this country.”

The Budget additionally includes $8 million to provide open educational resources, including e-books, to students at SUNY and CUNY colleges to help defray the prohibitive cost of textbooks.

“With this budget, New York has the nation’s first accessible college program.  It’s a different model,” said Governor Cuomo. “Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it. 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. With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

Under the Excelsior Scholarship, nearly 80 percent, or 940,000 middle-class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year, would qualify to attend college tuition-free at all CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges in New York State.

The new program will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

Scholars must be enrolled in college full-time and average 30 credits per year (including summer and January semesters) in order to receive the funding, however, the program has built in flexibility so that any student facing hardship is able to pause and restart the program, or take fewer credits one semester than another.

Students are required to maintain a grade point average necessary for the successful completion of their coursework, and, as the program makes a major investment in the state’s greatest asset – our young people – scholars will be required to live and work in-state for the same number of years after graduation as they received the scholarship while in school.

The budget provides a record $7.5 billion in total support for higher education, a $448 million, or 6.3 percent, increase over last year. These initiatives build on the governor’s commitment to making college affordable for all students in the Empire State, including the nation-leading “Get On Your Feet” Loan Forgiveness Program, which allows eligible college graduates living in New York to pay nothing on their student loans for the first two years out of school.

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