Cuomo’s tuition-free college plan prompts questions about cost


BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) – Governor Andrew Cuomo’s tuition-free initiative, aimed at the middle class, requires students to be enrolled at SUNY and CUNY colleges full-time.

“I think we can’t afford not to do it,” said Cuomo, during a visit to Buffalo State College Tuesday.

Under the program, eligible students would still receive TAP, the tuition assistance program, and any federal grants that apply.

Additional state funds would cover the remaining balance.

Based on estimates, the plan is expected to cost about $163 million per year once fully phased in.

The plan will require legislative approval.

“Many of us suspect that number is higher, and the proposal is coming at a time when the governor in his budget is also proposing an increase in SUNY tuition,” said State Senator Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma.

Gallivan says the lure of free college at state schools could have a “negative impact” on private colleges.

“Especially in areas like St. Bonaventure or Alfred (University), the places that those local colleges are important to the economy,” he said.

Governor Cuomo says his plan doesn’t treat private colleges unfairly — pointing out that the state has invested more than $2.4 billion dollars in private schools since 2011, and provides grants to about 90,000 students to attend private schools.

The tuition-free plan, called the Excelsior Scholarship, would be phased in over three years beginning this fall for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 a year.

From there it would increase to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019.

As the cost of going to college continues to skyrocket, Cuomo argues that his tuition-free plan will work to make it more affordable.

It’s estimated that borrowers owe nearly $1.3 trillion in student debt.

Steven Elwell, vice president of Level Financial Advisors in Amherst, says there’s a financial disadvantage for those graduating today compared to those who left college decades ago.

“College tuition has increased faster than inflation, faster than wage growth for those earning college degrees. You end up having the cost be nominally bigger than what the wage you end up getting once you have that degree is,” explained Elwell.

Meanwhile, Gallivan says he’s received a lot of calls from “skeptical” constituents expressing opposition to the free-tuition initiative.

“Some have said nothing is free. Some others point out that while this sounds good, and that it’s free, there’s still costs associated with attending college,” Gallivan said. “Others talk about the old-fashioned work ethic. They feel that people should work for certain things and not hand it to them.”

Gallivan says state lawmakers need to be “responsible” as the they consider the governor’s proposal.

“Ensure that we can pay for it, and that the questions are satisfactorily answered before we go forward,” he added.

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