Report estimates cost of free tuition at community colleges

By Tom Momberg

The Independent Budget Office has put together a report estimating the cost of implementing free tuition in the City University of New York’s community colleges at the behest of Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams.

The IBO estimated the annual cost of free tuition for CUNY’s current number of roughly 100,000 community college students would range from $138 million to $232 million, depending on whether the implementation of such policies would be limited to full-time programs of three years or less, or would extend to programs of unlimited duration for both full-time and part-time students.

Adams made the request after President Barack Obama mentioned CUNY’s existing tuition exemption program in his 2015 State of the Union adress as a model for higher education going forward.

He said the IBO’s report reaffirmed for him that his proposal to expand CUNY’s existing program would improve student outcomes, asking for modest increased state and city support to make the system’s community colleges tuition free.

All CUNY community colleges would be affected by such a change in tuition assistance, including LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City and Queensborough Community College in Bayside.

Many CUNY community colleges already participate in the university system’s Accelerated Study in Associate Programs, which is limited in qualification to low-income, full-time students in certain approved majors who exhibit high achievement and have applied for other forms of financial aid.

ASAP can waive tuition and help eligible students pay for books and transportation costs. It also provides a full range of student help interventions—a program which CUNY and even the White House has touted for increasing graduation rates by nearly 50 percent.

An analysis conducted by the nonprofit nonpartisan educational and social policy research organization MDRC found that an additional investment of just over $16,000 in each ASAP student over three years, actually lowered the cost for each degree earned by about 11 percent compared to students receiving usual college services, who often take longer to complete their degrees or drop out before graduating.

The IBO announced in its report that it was unable to assume similar conclusions about an increase in graduation rates if a tuition waiver were expanded for all CUNY community college students, who currently have an average three-year graduation rate of about 22 percent.

Reach reporter Tom Momberg by e-mail at tmomb[email protected]nglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

More from Around New York