Tuition program not total solution
In its initial year, the state’s Excelsior Scholarship program — perhaps better known as the “free tuition” plan — benefited 22,000 students who were income eligible.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo and state lawmakers approved the idea as part of last year’s state budget negotiations — and about 75,000 students applied for the free tuition. Not all were successful, largely because the program gave the tuition to students at SUNY’s 64 campuses if their household income was less than $100,000 this year. This year, that threshold moves to $110,000 and then to $125,000 in 2019.
But there’s another side to this story. The law that created the Excelsior program also included a provision that allows SUNY to raise tuition up to $200 a year. And, lo and behold and probably to no one’s surprise, SUNY trustees have done precisely that two years in a row.
All the more reason why students and parents should be aware of the July 23 deadline to apply for the Excelsior program. They also ought to understand the various limitations and requirements, including students needing to agree to live in the state and stay in New York after they graduate for as many years as they received the free tuition. Students also need to have good grades and attend public college full time, and, if they break certain agreements, the state will convert the scholarship to a loan. Keep in mind that Excelsior is considered the “last dollar” award after other tuition assistance programs are exhausted, and there are many of them, including TAP and Pell grants. And Excelsior addresses only tuition costs, which are rising to $6,870 annually at the state’s four-year colleges. Average expenses total about $25,000 for a SUNY education each year when you add in room and board, fees, books and transportation.
Cuomo is making the free-tuition program one of his talking points during the campaign for re-election this year, and that’s understandable.
SUNY schools are still a relative bargain, and the free tuition program helps, but allowing annual tuition increases to continually creep up beyond the rate of inflation has to stop. Solutions to the high cost of education in general run the gamut from having the federal government enact policies that lower interest rates for college loans, to SUNY offering more courses online and addressing its high administrative costs. Students, too, can better control their financial fate by starting at a community college and doing everything they can to finish college on time.
Free tuition is great for those who are eligible, but SUNY has about 600,000 students in credited courses, and more than 700,000 in continuing education and outreach programs. These numbers clearly show that the program, while laudable, is nowhere near a total solution to rising education costs.
More information about the state’s free tuition program can be found at www.hesc.ny.gov .
The Poughkeepsie Journal