Gov. Cuomo and Hillary Clinton visit Long Island City to enact tuition-free state college law

Photo courtesy of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s office

New York became the first state in the country to provide tuition-free education at two- and four-year public colleges on April 11.

Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City to enact the Excelsior Scholarship, which will provide tuition-free state college for families making $100,000 or less in annual income.

He was joined by former New York senator and presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. The governor first announced the plan in January at the college when he was joined by Senator Bernie Sanders.

“This state used to have the most educated workforce in the United States of America,” Cuomo said. “Now, New York is 12 in the nation. The state with the most educated workforce is the state that is going to succeed long term from an economic development point of view.”

Students enrolled in SUNY or CUNY schools whose families report a certain gross income on their most recent tax return will be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship, named after the state motto which means ever upward

Starting this fall, students of families who earn $100,000 or less will be eligible. That number will increase to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019. There is no age restriction on the scholarship, and Cuomo said more than 940,000 middle-class families are expected to benefit.

“This is exactly the image that progressive leadership believes in and delivers on,” Clinton said. “I am so grateful to my friend and our governor for taking this idea and not just talking about it but making it happen for the young men and women of our state.”

Republicans also added a last-minute requirement to the bill that states those who graduate after benefiting from the scholarship must stay in the state after graduation for however many years they received the scholarship, the New York Post reported. Students would be forced to pay the money back if they leave the state right after graduation.

Students must enroll in school full-time to be eligible. D. Bruce Johnstone, a former SUNY chancellor told the The New York Times that this program would only help a small slice of middle-class students because of this requirement.

Low-income students enrolled in SUNY and CUNY schools are increasingly attending school part-time so that they can work. At New York community colleges, more than 90 percent of students would not qualify for free tuition because they are not enrolled full time, The Times reports. At four-year colleges, 60 percent of students would not qualify.

Still, SUNY estimates that about 80,000 students in its system could benefit from the program and about 3,000 to 5,000 students attending CUNY could benefit.

The program is expected to cost $87 million the first year and $163 million during its third year.

“I believe every single child and every single young person in New York and in America deserves to go as far as their hard work, their skills, their education will take them,” Clinton said

To receive more information on the scholarship, visit the governor’s website.