Part of the budget agreed to by legislators and Governor Andrew Cuomo includes an aggressive push to make college more affordable for middle- and low-income families.
It was one of the first proposals put forward by Gov. Cuomo during his ‘State of the State’ addresses, and included an appearance by former Democratic White House hopeful Bernie Sanders.
The deal will benefit nearly 80 percent or 940,000 families across the state — and according to data released by Gov. Cuomo’s Office on Saturday will help an eligible 55,747 in the Finger Lakes.
According to the Governor, 79.2 percent of families in the region are eligible for the plan, which will make college tuition free under the “Excelsior Scholarship.
When fully-implemented, the scholarship will cover individuals and families making up to $125,000 per year.
The new program will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.
In order to qualify students will need to be full-time, and average 30 credits per year, which includes summer and winter break classes.
The program will have built-in flexibility to allow students the opportunity to pause and restart the program — or even take fewer credits one semester — should it be necessary.
Interestingly, the program also requires that students live- and work- in New York for the same number of years after graduation — as they received the scholarship.
Presumably, students will be required to pay back the scholarship — if they decide to take an opportunity outside of the state.
The budget also continues the ‘Get On Your Feet’ loan forgiveness program. It allows eligible college graduates living in New York to pay nothing on their student loans for the first two years out of school.
Gov. Cuomo said of the new scholarship, “College is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.” He added, “The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make.”
“[My] parents can’t afford it,” according to the Governor, should not be a reason why students pass on going to college. He says that every child will have the opportunity that education provides under this program.”
Throwing the word “free” in front of something doesn’t mean it won’t come with cost. College is expensive, and even “affordable” state schools are far from cheap.
According to SUNY’s own financial figures — the average student can expect $20,700 in direct costs, as well as an additional $3,980 in total indirect costs per year.
Direct costs include tuition, student fees, as well as room and board.
Indirect costs include books and supplies, personal expenses, as well as transportation, which are not figured in when a student is going away to school.
It brings the annual cost of education at a SUNY school to $27,680.
Gov. Cuomo’s ‘Excelsior Scholarship’ will bring that figure down $6,470 — or to a total, annual cost of $21,210.
Multiply that over a four year period, assuming the student graduates on time, and that student or family will still have spent $84,840.
In order to qualify for the Governor’s scholarship, students and families will also need to be residents for one year. The scholarship is also considered a “last dollar” program, which could save some of the burden expected on taxpayers.
That distinction means that the scholarship will cover the difference leftover after all other forms of aid are applied to a student’s financial aid situation.
According to New York State, it means roughly half of those eligible in the first year will not receive the scholarship due to already receiving an equal benefit.
Rollout will begin over the next several months — as students prepare to take advantage of the soon-to-be minted deal.
Watch Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s entire address after the budget deal was reached on Friday.