Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to offer free tuition at New York public colleges to eligible residents.
The Democrat unveiled his plan Tuesday morning at LaGuardia Community College in Queens alongside U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont. During the senator’s unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, Sanders pushed for free tuition at all U.S. public colleges.
Cuomo’s plan would provide free tuition to a State University of New York or City University of New York college, including two-year community colleges, for residents whose families earn less than $125,000.
“A college education is not a luxury – it is an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility,” he said. “We’re providing the opportunity for New Yorkers to succeed, no matter what zip code they come from and without the anchor of student debt weighing them down.”
Sanders added that for the U.S. to succeed in a highly competitive global economy, it needs the best educated workforce in the world.
“With exploding technology, and with most of the good-paying jobs requiring more and more education, we need to make certain that every New Yorker, every Vermonter and every American gets all the education they need regardless of family income,” he said. “In other words, we must make public colleges and universities tuition free for the middle class and working families of our country.”
Cuomo’s proposal would have the Excelsior Scholarship program starting this fall. The governor’s plan would require approval by the legislature.
New York has the nation’s largest public university system, with 440,000 students spread among 64 campuses across the state. Currently, 80 percent of New York households make $125,000 or less with an estimated 940,000 households having college-aged children that would be eligible for the program, according to the governor’s office.
Based on enrollment projections, the plan will cost approximately $163 million per year once fully phased in.
The new initiative will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.
The announcement of the free-tuition proposal is the latest among a surge of such programs started across the country by institutions, localities and states with varying eligibility requirements.