Gov. Cuomo signs bill giving free SUNY tuition to qualifying students

April 12, 2017 06:29 PM

The governor made it official Wednesday morning. The Excelsior Scholarship program is a reality. It calls for free tuition for state colleges for lower and middle class families. The governor's office says almost 76 percent of New York students will be able to take advantage of it. However, there's a catch.

Students NewsChannel 13 spoke with at UAlbany are very excited about Governor Cuomo signing the bill, saying it will help make college more affordable.

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"College, it's tough to afford it. So it's just going to make more students be able to attend college and achieve more in the future," reasoned Connor Judd, a UAlbany junior.

On the campus of the University at Albany, students are excited about the bill signed by the governor on Wednesday.

"It gives a lot of students the opportunity now to pursue an education," noted Nnenna Onwuchekwa, a UAlbany Freshman.

The governor signed the legislation at LaGuardia Community College on Wednesday. He had rolled out the plan in January with Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders. He signed it with former New York Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The governor compared the plan to free public high school education decades ago.

"Today my friends, college is what high school was 70 years ago," noted Cuomo.

WEB EXTRA: Gov. Cuomo on the importance of college education

There are four major components to the tuition plan. First the financials. Families have to make less than $100,000 this year to qualify for the scholarship. That threshold jumps to $110,000 next year and $125,000 in 2019.

Students have to average 30 credits a year while enrolled.  That can include summer and winter courses.

There's no GPA target, but a student's grades have to be good enough to complete coursework.

The final part of the plan could be the most controversial. If students take advantage of the tuition plan, they must stay in New York after graduation for the same number of years they received the scholarship. That means if you use the scholarship to go to a four year SUNY school, you have to live and work in New York for four years after you graduate.

Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis of Orange County is introducing a bill to remove the requirement that students have to work in New York State after graduating.

Governor Cuomo says the requirement is about keeping students educated by New York taxpayers in the state. “We have to fundamentally change the system so that college and growth is available to everyone and we regain our place as the smartest state in the smartest nation, and we are economically competitive all across the globe,” said Cuomo.”

Students we spoke with at UAlbany backed up the governor’s plan. “It’s an incentive for people to stay in New York, so I see where the governor’s coming from,” said Onwuchekwa.

“I don’t plan on leaving,” said Judd. “I think there’s a great job market in New York State.”

Even though the Excelsior Scholarship only covers tuition, students say every little bit helps. “If something is taken off the burden of paying tuition and now it's only room and board that you have to pay for, it's going to work in a lot more people's favor to then go to school,” said Onwuchekwa.

“Anything that helps because tuition is $6,000 as it is right now,” said Judd. “It'll just help students with loans and their families afford college.”

According to the governor’s office, 75% of families with college-age students in the Capital Region will be eligible to take advantage of the Excelsior Scholarship.


Ben Amey

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