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  • Writer's pictureJoanne Jacobs

Cuomo’s ‘free college’ is bad policy

“Free college” may help Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s career, but it won’t help educate New York students, argues New York Times columnist David Brooks.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo promotes “tuition-free college for New York’s middle class.”

New York will make tuition free at state colleges and universities for students from families earning up to $100,000 a year, with the cap rising to $125,000 in 2019. It’s explicitly billed as help for “the middle class.”

The law doesn’t help families earning less than $50,000 a year because they don’t pay tuition, writes Brooks. The law “does pay for tuition for New Yorkers who make double the state’s median income.”

Many students pay more for room, board and textbooks than tuition. The law doesn’t help anyone.

Third, it doesn’t cover students who don’t go to school full time and don’t complete in four years. In 2017 this is the vast, vast majority of all students, especially poorer students.

Fourth, it demotivates students. Research has shown that students who have to work to pay some college costs, even if only small expenses, are more spurred to work hard and graduate. As Northwestern researcher Chenny Ng put it in a Washington Post essay, “as the cost of attending college drops to zero, so does the perceived cost of dropping out.”

Many of the state’s 150 private colleges need upper-middle-class students willing to pay tuition in order to keep the doors open and offer scholarships to poorer students, writes Brooks. It’s hard to compete with “free.” Expects private colleges to close.

. . .  the law could hurt the quality of New York’s state system. Right now those schools rely on tuition to help fund programs. If New York moves more toward a purely publicly funded model, it may suffer from the slow decay that has hurt many state systems. State budgets are perpetually challenged by rising entitlement spending. Education gets squeezed. The universities will try to claw back the private money with dorm fees, activities fees and other charges that don’t officially count as tuition, but still quality suffers.

Anya Kamenetz provides the “fine print” on the New York plan. Note that former students have to pay back the “free tuition” if they move out of the state within four years after leaving school.

Rick Moran looks at the “true costs” — which are bound to rise.

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