Updated Jan. 3, 3:40 p.m.
Governor Andrew Cuomo and Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders announced a plan in Long Island City on Tuesday to introduce tuition-free state and city college.
Cuomo and Sanders came to La Guardia Community College to talk about the plan, called the Excelsior Scholarship, which would provide students who are attending two-year and four-year college programs in New York state and New York City, and whose families earn $125,000 or less, a tuition-free education.
This would be the first program of its kind in the United States.
Cuomo, who hails from Queens, said in a press conference that college affordability is “the most important issue that this state and nation must address.”
“It is incredibly hard and getting incredibly harder to get a college education,” he said. “The average college debt is $30,000 per student. Half the student debt in New York state is higher than $30,000. That is not fair. That is not right.”
The plan will start to be implemented this fall and will be officially in place by 2019 with legislative approval, according to The New York Times. The estimated cost of the Excelsior Scholarship would be $163 million approximately 940,000 households in New York have college-aged children that could benefit from this program.
The new initiative will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 per year in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.
Existing aid programs would be combined with other state money to pay for the program. The Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) offers almost $1 billion statewide and New York is only one of two states to offer a program like this. The program would provide TAP and other federal grants along with other state funds to cover the remaining costs.
Sanders, who made affordable college tuition a priority during his 2016 presidential run, said this plan would encourage other states to follow New York’s lead in terms of providing a college education to all students regardless of family income.
“It is basically insane to tell the young people of this country, ‘We want you to go out and get the best education you can, we want you to get the jobs of the future. Oh, but by the way, after you leave school you’re going to be 30, 50, 100 thousand dollars in debt. And you’re going to have to spend decades paying off that debt,'” Sanders said.
Currently, tuition at a four-year state school is $6,470 per year. At two-year community colleges, the tuition is $4,350. Those attending a four-year program at a city school pay approximately $6,330 per year and $4,880 per year at a two-year community college.
New York’s public university system is the largest in the United States, with 440,000 students attending a public university on 64 campuses.
“It’s once again New York leading the way, the way we did on raising the minimum wage, the way we did on paid family leave, marriage equality, the way we did on gun safety, and this should be a wake up call in this nation,” Cuomo said.