Saturday, April 15, 2017

18.1 - Good News: NY advances free college tuition

Good News: NY advances free college tuition

Starting the week off right, we have Good News that the dream of free higher education is one tiny step closer to reality.

New York state has created and adopted a program offering universal public college tuition coverage at SUNY (State University of New York) and CUNY (City University of New York) campuses. In other words, free four-year college tuition.

Called the Excelsior Scholarship program, the name coming from the fact that "Excelsior" is the state motto of New York, its only requirements are being a state resident, having a family income of less than $100,000, rising to $125,000 by 2019, and that the recipient be a full-time student maintaining the minimum GPA requirement for their particular program. There is no age limit and there are no caps on the number of residents who can benefit.

There are some states that have comprehensive grant and scholarship programs for four-year college, and free tuition at two-year state colleges already exists in three states with about a dozen others considering it - but New York's is the only truly universal, four-year college, program.

An estimated 80 percent of New York State's families with college-age children could use the new program along with adult students entering college for the first time.

I have seen two concerns expressed about the program, one being that the program requires recipients upon graduation to stay in the state for as many years as they received the scholarship - but that kind of requirement is not that unusual; the idea being that you got this benefit which has enabled you to obtain some skill or skills, and in return for that you agree to apply the skills you learned locally for a time.

The bigger, more serious concern, that it doesn't go far enough to address the needs of low-income students, who often find the costs of housing, food, and transportation to be obstacles every bit as big or even bigger than tuition. Which is abundantly true: At a SUNY school, tuition is about $6500 a year - but room and board and fees come to over $14,000, a figure that doesn't include the cost of books.

Even so, there is still a good amount of Good News here in that by cutting the cost by thousands of dollars a year, college has been brought within the reach of working- and middle-class families for who it had been unattainable and it at the very, very least represents a recognition that higher education should not be a privilege of the wealthiest or a direct conduit to life-long debt. The Excelsior Scholarship is far from perfect - but it is a clear step in the right direction, and that makes it Good News.

As a quick footnote to that,you may have noticed a familiar figure on the stage in the photo of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announcing the proposal for the program at a press conference in January. The reason that's relevant is that on on April 3, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal introduced the College for All Act.

It would eliminate tuition and fees at four-year public colleges and universities for families making up to $125,000 – about 80 percent of the population – and make community college tuition- and fee-free for all as well as offering debt relief to students, expanding existing federal aid to cover all the costs of college, not just tuition, and addressing the needs of the poorest students.

In his press release, Sanders noted that the entire cost of the program could be covered by a small tax on some forms of Wall Street speculation.

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