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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Cuomo plans ‘free college’ for most in NY

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo wants to offer free tuition at state universities to students from families earning up to $125,00 a year, reports the New York Times. Community colleges also would be tuition free.

The “Excelsior Scholarship” would cover any tuition payments not already covered by existing state and federal grants. The estimated cost is $163 million, though that’s a very fuzzy estimate, on top of $1 billion now offered in state tuition aid.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his free-college proposal with failed Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders at his side.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced his free-college proposal with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders at his side. Photo: Mary Altaffer/AP

Yes, Cuomo is being mentioned as a possible Democratic presidential candidate in 2020. He invited Bernie Sanders, who ran on the “free college” idea, to his press conference.

State colleges shouldn’t be free, writes Reason‘s Nick Gillespie a SUNY-Buffalo grad.

Cuomo’s plan, billed as helping “the middle class,” covers students from families earning more than double the median income in New York, writes Gillespie. “If you’re in a household making $124,000 a year, you’re in the top 16 percent of households.”

The sons and daughters of more-educated, more-remunerated folks are more likely to go to college in the first place and a lot more likely to graduate in four or six years. . . . it would be far better to narrow the focus of the program to, say, students coming from the bottom 20 percent of households by income and giving them the sorts of support (intellectual and social) that might help them make it all the way through. As it stands, only about 20 percent of students from the bottom fifth of households have a college degree by age 24. That’s the same rate as in 1970. (And of course, educational reform should start at the K-12 level first and foremost, by making charter schools and vouchers more widely available to the students who would gain the most from them.)

He also argues that all college students should have “skin in the game.”

A college diploma raises average lifetime earnings by between $250,000 and $1 million (depending on many factors and assumptions) and it makes sense to ask the person who will cash that premium to pay for at least some part of it, doesn’t it?

If that dissuades the not-very-motivated from going to college, it’s “a good thing,” concludes Gillespie.

Therefore, the benefits of the program would go to two groups of students. The first group is fairly obvious: middle-income and upper-middle-income families. In New York, $125,000 falls at roughly the 80th percentile of family income—an income level where families may not be able to pay tuition without borrowing, but college enrollment rates are quite high. The second group consists of lower-income students who are induced to enroll by the clear message of free tuition, even though they would have received free tuition without the program. Tennessee’s enrollment boost suggests this group is far from trivial in size.

Students still will need to borrow to cover living expenses, writes Kelchen. “Tuition and fees are less than half of the total cost of attendance at four-year colleges and an even smaller fraction at community colleges.”

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