Advocates for free college tuition have something new to be excited about. New York state recently passed legislation to offer free tuition at two- and four-year universities. The welcomed move would create the country's largest pool of students (1.3 million) that have access to free tuition. Titled the Excelsior Scholarship, it would cover full-time students in the state's extensive university system.
“Students from families making up to $100,000 a year would be eligible in the program's first year, and by the third year that would increase to $125,000 a year.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders, whose 2016 presidential campaign championed a national transition to free tuition, joined NY State governor Andrew Cuomo at an event celebrating the program.
While more states and municipalities in the country are offering free tuition, the majority of these are community colleges. The inclusion of 4-year universities in such a populated state makes the Excelsior Scholarship an impressive step forward.
Some experts question the details
However, some free tuition advocates have found certain details of the plan to be problematic. For example, experts say it may be more beneficial to students who have more money. Per NPR,
“Students must first apply for, and use, other money like federal Pell Grants, before turning to the scholarship.”
As a result, students that are too wealthy to qualify for the grants will have a more direct path to accessing the Excelsior Scholarship.
Furthermore, the program requires students to finish their education in either two or four years (depending on their program). While the state reasons that this will be extra motivation to finish on time, it leaves little room for life getting in the way.
Another caveat that concerns free education enthusiasts is the requirement to stay in state for a duration after completing school. Students who complete an associates degree will need to stay in state for two years, and those that complete a bachelor's will need to stay for four. The requirement is intended as a return on the state's investment. Some advocates claim education should have no strings attached. Violators will see their scholarship retroactively turn into a loan.
A step forward for free tuition
All in all, the Excelsior Scholarship looks to be a bold step for free tuition. Despite its potential flaws, it will be another tool that helps the state cast as wide of a net as possible to get students educated without debt. Beyond that, it will be a real-time model for other states to look to and either duplicate or improve upon.