Cuomo proposes tuition-free college for eligible New York residents

Jan 3, 2017

Governor Andrew Cuomo wants to make public colleges and universities in the state tuition-free for eligible students. Cuomo made the announcement Tuesday at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.

SUNY Buffalo State's campus.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

“It is going to be the first program like it the United States of American. It is once again New York leading the way. The way we did on raising minimum wage, the way we did on paid family leaving, the way we did on passing marriage equality, the way we did on gun safety and it should be a wakeup call to this nation,” said Cuomo.

Cuomo is proposing the Excelsior Scholarship.

“Which says very simply – free tuition to a state two year school or a four year school if you come from any family earning $125,000 or less. The state will provide free tuition,” explained Cuomo.

Cuomo's proposal would provide some 940,000 state residents with free tuition. The proposed initiative would cost the state 1$63-million a year.  Cuomo wants the new plan to go into effect this fall, but he needs approval from the state Legislature. 

Cuomo made the announcement alongside Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders.  Sanders gained popularity during the Presidential race last year with his plan for free tuition at U.S. public colleges. 

"What Governor Cuomo is proposing is a revolutionary idea that is going to reverberate throughout this country," said Sanders. “And the day will come when we understand public education in American is not simply kindergarten through high school, but that public education in 2017 means making public colleges and public universities tuition-free." 

WBFO News reached SUNY Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner. She said it is an 'exciting' idea.

Buffalo State President Katherine Conway-Turner.
Credit WBFO News file photo by Eileen Buckley

“On first thought, it seems like a wonderful vision to start the year off thinking about a way to provide tuition for a large portion of our students that many times struggle,” said Conway-Turner. 

But how would it effect a SUNY school's bottom line and enrollment numbers for out state students..  Conway-Turner admitted the "devil will be in the details" 

“How would it really work and every year the cost increase across the campuses, so how would we account for that and how do we just maintain the very outstanding education we have on our public campuses.  Just not having any of the details at all, it is really hard to respond,” replied Conway-Turner.

Say Yes Buffalo executive director David Rust is also embracing the the idea.  

“So I would applaud the Governor for making this decision and making this proposal. I think it is clearly links education as an equalizer and also an economic driver in the region," responded Rust.

Say Yes already provides free collage scholarships to all Buffalo Public and city charter students.  Rust says he believes it would be beneficial to the work at Say Yes.

“So I think the infrastructure will remain in place that will allow more student promise that the Governor is putting forward and we will be here providing wrap-around supports with the scholarship promise and working hand and glove with the state if this should pass,” said Rust.

The proposal is design to eliminate the heavy burden of college costs on families and remove major loans students are forced to take out to pay for higher education.      

University at Buffalo President Satish Tripathi is calling the Governor's proposed Excelsior Scholarship Program "exciting".  Tripathi issued a written statement saying the proposal would "advance a long-held tenet of the University at Buffalo – that our state’s students deserve access to an affordable and excellent education."

“At UB, our students receive a world-class education, graduate at a rate that far exceeds the national average, and they begin their professional lives with debt levels significantly below national averages. The governor’s program will significantly expand access to SUNY’s outstanding institutions while also enhancing higher education completion rates for New York students.  As the state’s largest public institution and an internationally recognized research university, UB fully supports the governor’s proposal to provide increased accessibility, affordability and excellence in higher education," wrote Tripathi.