• Joanne Jacobs

‘Free college’ plan: Who benefits?

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “free college” plan won’t help low-income and working-class students, writes Mikhail Zinshteyn.

The Cuomo plan is “completely a handout to the middle class,” says Matt Chingos, an Urban Institute scholar.

Students from families with incomes up to $125,000 would benefit. Those whose families earn $40,000 or less would not. They already receive enough federal and state aid to pay for tuition, though they may struggle to pay for living expenses.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo rides the subway. Photo: Mark A. Hermann/MTA New York CityTransit


Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton proposed “first-dollar” programs, meaning that students would receive free tuition in addition to federal grants, explains Zinshteyn. Cuomo proposes a “last-dollar” plan. “The free-tuition benefits kick in only after all other federal and state grants are applied to a student’s tuition bill.”

Cuomo’s plan doesn’t cover room and board, which often costs more than tuition, or the hefty fees charged by some state universities. Nationwide, student fees “inflated the tuition bill by 27 percent on average, a recent report found.

That’s why the cost estimate is so low: $163 million.

While other states cover the first two years of college, Cuomo wants to provide four years of free tuition, writes Judith Scott-Clayton of Columbia University’s Teachers’ College on Brookings’ blog.

Skeptics would prefer spending the money on targeted supports for needy students, such as the counseling and structure in CUNY’s highly effective  ASAP program, she writes.

States are trying different models, writes Robert Kelchen in Washington Monthly. We’ll see what works best.

#lowincomestudents #collegecosts #Tennessee #freecollege #Cuomo

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