Starting June 7th, prospective students can apply for tuition-free education at state colleges through the Excelsior Scholarship program. The particulars of the plan were approved Thursday by the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation Board of Trustees.
Trustee Marc Cohen hailed the move that "officially makes New York the first state in the nation to provide free tuition for in-state students looking to get their degree from a public institution in New York."
Debate and doubts have been raised throughout the months since Governor Andrew Cuomo first outlined the tuition-free plan. Many diminished the proposal as a political stunt that looked to improve Cuomo's national profile. Others have dismissed the offer as a poor public policy initiative that will result in unintended consequences.
"This is an outstanding step in the right direction for students, for families and the future of our great state," Cohen maintained.
Students from families making less than $125,000 a year will be eligible for free tuition. According to officials, nearly 80 percent of New York families fall within that threshold.
An exception has been made for the program's controversial residency requirement. While graduates from the Excelsior Scholarship will need to live in New York State for a mandatory period of time, waivers will be granted in cases of "extreme hardship." The Board of Trustees also agreed that waivers will be granted to students fulfilling military obligations. College credits earned in high school will be accepted toward fulfilling the program's 30-credits per year requirement.
Cohen also addressed the reality that "this is not free college, but rather free tuition." He encouraged state officials to building funding models to help students cover the cost of books, room and board and health care.
"The other thing we discussed was a need on the part of the state to provide funding for things like professors and faculty members to who can support the supposed influx of students that we are going to see because of this program," Cohen said.