Gov. Cuomo announces Excelsior Scholarship, aims to make New York first state with free college tuition system

(Originally published on 2/7/17 in The Record:  https://buffstaterecord.com/8391/news/gov-cuomo-announces-excelsior-scholarship-aims-make-new-york-first-state-free-college-tuition-system/)

New York could become the first state with a free college tuition system.

On Tuesday, Governor Andrew Cuomo made the first stop of his statewide Excelsior Scholarship campaign at SUNY Buffalo State.

The Excelsior Scholarship is a program spearheaded by the governor that will provide free college tuition to  students who don’t receive as much financial aid as those from low-income families.

Dan Almasi/The Record

The program is set to begin in the fall, providing aid to households with incomes up to $110,000 then increase to $125,000 over the next three years.

Governor Cuomo emphasized the importance of the American dream, and the direction of America’s economy. He says America has an “intellectual economy” where college degrees are not only expected, but necessary in most professions.

“We can’t afford not to do it, because otherwise we will have the economy pass us by,” Cuomo said.

The scholarship will cost taxpayers $163 million.

This is a “last-dollar” plan, so it will cover tuition costs after federal and state grants have already been applied. Since those grants already cover households below the $50,000 mark, this will primarily apply to middle-income households.

Cuomo says that America used to have the number-one “educated workforce on the planet,” with New York State leading the states in college degrees. Now, the country has fallen to number-eleven worldwide, with New York no longer being one of the top states.

The scholarship will only cover tuition. It will not include room and board, meal plans or textbooks.

However, according to Cuomo, 93% of New York State residents live within fifteen miles of a SUNY school, and 100% live within 30 miles. Students should be able to commute from home relatively easily to save money.

“For some families, it is very difficult to close that gap between state and federal aid and personal family contribution. We know how hard it is,” says Katherine Conway-Turner, Buffalo State President.

Byron Brown, Mayor of Buffalo and Buffalo State alum, showed his support of the proposal as well.

“Some of the best memories of my life were made here on this campus,” Brown said.

He mentioned that it took him years to pay off his college debt. He also noted when he went, tuition was much less than it is now.

The key to the American dream is higher education, Cuomo says.

“The dream lives on,” Cuomo says, “…the top floor is a college education, and no one is going to be deprived of college because they cannot afford it.”

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