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Jun 25 2017
by Ben Norrito

The Problem With New York's 'Free' College

By Ben Norrito - Jun 25 2017
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Earlier this year, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law called the Excelsior Scholarship that was advertised as free tuition for New York citizens. Currently, the scholarship is available to students whose families earn less than $100,000 a year. It is aiming to expand to include students whose families earn less than $110,000 and finally $125,000 a year. These students must attend a State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY), and must remain in the New York state five years after graduation or the scholarship will be converted into loans. However, there are many limitations and exceptions to what was promised.

The first limitation to this scholarship is that it is not able to cover the total cost for students. It only covers tuition, which means that room and board, fees and deposits are still up to the students. Especially in New York, these costs are oftentimes more than the cost of tuition itself, meaning low-income students still cannot afford to go to college. 

Another huge place where the Excelsior Scholarship fails is in its availability.  The scholarship is first given priority to current college students, then it is given to incoming students of the Class of 2021. The state originally projected it could pay for the tuition of 22,000 students, yet it has received over 30,000 applications in just two weeks. Since the state has an estimated 940,000 families eligible for the scholarship, if all apply, only about 3 percent of families will receive the scholarship.

Since the state does not have enough money to award the scholarship to everyone, it has resorted to a lottery system. This means no one is guaranteed the scholarship, and there is a high chance students may be stuck at a school with no way to pay tuition if they are not awarded the money. This has turned off many students who don’t think the risk is worth it. As one student, who asked to remain anonymous, put it:

"Instead of risking it I’d rather go to a [college I can afford] … It’s that the state acts like everyone is going to get [the scholarship] but it’s not like that.”

The Excelsior Scholarship is a groundbreaking piece of legislation in the United States. It gives many low-income families a chance at a quality higher education they may not have been able to afford before. However, it is severely limited in its selection. It is incredibly risky for students to commit and fails to deliver on its promises. It is a step in the right direction but is simply not enough. Only time will tell of the success of the Excelsior Scholarship, and those it is given to will have chances they would never have dreamed of.

Lead Image Credit: Fabian Blank via Unsplash

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Ben Norrito - SUNY New Paltz

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