Governor Andrew Cuomo and state legislative leaders have announced a new bill aimed at eliminating tuition fees in all SUNY and CUNY institutions for undergraduate students whose households rack in $125,000 or less. This bill is to be put into effect starting in the fall semester of 2017, being accessible only to families earning $100,000 or less initially and progressively rising to the $125,000 benchmark within three years. Although figures were not discussed, the governor has also proposed a provisional grant to all SUNY and CUNY institutions in order to ensure that public institutions do not slack off in their efforts to provide adequate budget funding. $8 million has been set aside for ensuring the affordability of course materials which are currently over-priced by providing free online versions of the education materials required in courses that receive the highest number of enrollments per semester.
Finally, a new grant will be provided for students attending private colleges with a maximum award of $3,000. This grant also requires that those private institutions match the award and freeze the student’s tuition during the period of the grant. Unfortunately, it’s not all roses and daisies in this new bill. It will require all recipients to spend an equal duration of the time they spent getting their degree, whether 2 years or 4, living and working in the state. Failure to comply with this would have the state convert the scholarships into loans which would have to be paid back in due time. The only exceptions would be if the student were to leave the state to continue their degree pursuit at another institution, if the student were to enroll in graduate school, or if the student was experiencing “extreme hardship”, (my understanding of this being if the student was having major difficulty finding a job or a place to live within the state, or maybe both). I can understand why many private institutions within the state are opposed to this bill. Quite a number of state residents enrol in private institutions, but free tuition for SUNY and CUNY will undoubtedly cause a shift in the balance of state residents enrolled in both public and private institutions. Although part of the bill does provide some incentive to enroll in a private college, referring to the new $3,000 grant, majority would still take free college any day, especially with the fact that the requirement to live within the state for the same amount of time as your degree cannot really be seen as much of a task to students who were already residents, to begin with. Also, the SUNY and CUNY systems have not really pushed for out-of-state recruitment. About 80% of students choose to stay in the state after graduation either to further their education or join the workforce. This bill is too strongly in favour of the students and not enough on the profits of private institutions, which is why I love it. It brings a smile to my face to be able to see that the state can and does still put education as a top priority regardless of the profits to be made. Although this bill does strongly favour in-state undergrads and demoralise their out-of-state counterparts looking to further their education in the state of New York, I believe it is a step in the right direction towards an eventual nationwide free tuition program. I anticipate other states will soon be making preparations to ensure they are not left behind by the state of New York in the race for being the leader in public higher education.