Tuition-free plan well-received, but how will it be funded?

Jan 10, 2017

Governor Andrew Cuomo is taking a bold approach to making college affordable for middle and low income families. WBFO's senior reporter Eileen Buckley says Cuomo's tuition-free proposal was well-received at the University at Buffalo's North Campus during his State of the State address Monday.

Governor Cuomo, on the state at UB's Center for the Arts, called for tuition-free college at all SUNY & CUNY schools.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“We should have tuition-free college in New York State for families who are making $125,000 or less because that is the future,” declared Cuomo.

The Governor received a standing ovations when he announced his tuition-free plan for middle class New Yorkers.  It would provide free college tuition New Yorkers from families earning $125-thousand or less the state's public colleges and universities.

“The way we pay for high school we should say, the day has come that we will now pay for college and let New York have the most educated workforce in the country,” stated Cuomo.

Cuomo told the crowd here in Western New York 85 percent of families would qualify for free college.

“I think it would definitely help a lot of people in our area. I am interested, though, to hear what he would cut to pay for it,” said Chris Johnson, a senior at Southwestern High School in Jamestown. 

Chris Johnson, a senior at Southwestern High School in Jamestown, was at speech.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

Two AP classes from the school were invited to the Governor's address. Johnson said he's eyeing UB or Stoney Brook for college.

“I would actually qualify for the free college. It might be a little too late for me by the time it comes into effect, but as of right now, I’m only looking at state schools because the burden of college would be too much anywhere else,” explained Johnson.

"I  might actually go here, at UB for mechanical engineering,” Wyatt Perry, a senior at Southwestern High School.  Perry has applied to UB and some other colleges. He's thrilled to hear about the tuition-free plan.

Wyatt Perry, a senior at Southwestern High School, attended the address.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

“The cost of room and board actually here is almost double, if not more than double, the cost of tuition, so that’s another cost you really have to factor in,” Perry said.

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher traveled to Buffalo for the Governor’s speech.  

“But I think it’s a huge boost to potential enrollments for the State University at New York,” Zimpher remarked following Cuomo’s address.       

SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher traveled to Buffalo for the Governor’s speech. She spoke with reporters after the address.
Credit WBFO News photo by Eileen Buckley

What still remains unclear is how the state will foot the bill for college free tuition. Zimpher said right now it's too early to identify a funding source.

“Too early. I think that’s where the executive and legislative process steps in,” Zimpher stated. WBFO asked Zimpher what would need to be done to convince lawmakers. 

“I think it is an issue of return on investment. We have said that these jobs of the future are going to require a baccalaureate degree, a two-year degree, and a certificate, so what we need to show people is that we can serve the work force,” Zimpher responded.

Zimpher reporters there are still many details to work out, but believes it would be a great boost for the state's public universities and colleges.  

Zimpher said she will be working every day to convince the state legislature to approve the plan. 

A group of students from the Buffalo Academy of Visual and Performing Arts were featured at Monday's State of the State address. They sang the National Anthem.