Sanders salutes Cuomo’s $163M free-tuition plan

Student government: Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders (left) lends a hand to Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Excelsior Scholarship Program Tuesday.

Middle-class families will send their kids to New York City and State public colleges tuition-free, if Gov. Andrew Cuomo gets his way.

Flanked by U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont), who made free tuition at all U.S. public colleges a cornerstone of his failed 2016 presidential campaign, Cuomo appeared Tuesday at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City to propose free tuition for eligible New Yorkers at State University of New York or City University of New York colleges.

Through Cuomo’s proposed Excelsior Scholarship Program, the tuition break – which would include two- and four-year colleges throughout the state – would be extended to students from middle-class families that earn less than a combined $125,000 annually.

The plan – the “first of its kind in the nation,” according to Cuomo’s office – must first be approved by the state Legislature, but promises to “help alleviate the crushing burden of student debt” while helping thousands of students “realize their dream of higher education,” according to a statement from the governor’s office.

Noting that a college education “is not a luxury” but “an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility,” Cuomo said the Excelsior Scholarships effort would give less-advantaged students a chance to succeed “without the anchor of student debt weighing them down.”

“New York is making a major investment in our greatest asset – our people – and supporting the dreams and ambitions of those who want a better life and are willing to work hard for it,” the governor added. “I am honored to have the support of Senator Sanders, who led the way on making college affordability a right.”

As designed, the tuition-free program requires participants to be enrolled at a SUNY or CUNY two- or four-year college full time. According to the governor’s office, 80 percent of state households currently earn less than $125,000 annually, with an estimated 940,000 of those households having college-aged children.

The scholarships will actually be phased in over three years, beginning for New York families making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017. The annual income limit increases to $110,000 in 2018 and finally extends to $125,000 in 2019.

According to enrollment projections by the governor’s office, the Excelsior Scholarships will cost the state roughly $163 million per year once the program is fully phased in.

That’s not exactly pocket change. But with U.S. student debt surpassing $1.2 trillion, it’s the price of ensuring that New York students of every economic stripe have the educational opportunities they need – and the state and country have the workforce they need to remain competitive in the global economy, according to Sanders.

“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,” Sanders said Tuesday. “We must make public colleges and universities tuition-free for the middle-class and working families of our country.

“That is what Gov. Cuomo is fighting for here in New York, and it’s something I strongly support,” Sanders added. “I urge New York legislators to pass this enormously important proposal and become a model for the rest of the nation.”


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