“For those who say we should subsidize private schools -- the average tuition for a private school in New York is $34,000 a year compared to roughly $6,400 at SUNY and CUNY four-year schools and $4,300 at our community colleges.”
“This program isn’t against private school — it’s about providing the most people with the greatest opportunity to attend college tuition free.”
Earlier today, the New York Daily News published an op-ed written by Jim Malatras, Director of State Operations, on the Excelsior Scholarship, Governor Cuomo’s nation-leading proposal to make college tuition-free for New York’s middle class families at all SUNY and CUNY two- and four-year colleges. The text of that op-ed is available below, and it can be viewed online here.
Cuomo free public college tuition 101
To be prepared for today’s job market, a college education is no longer a luxury. It’s a necessity. By 2024, more than 400,000 new jobs in New York will require at least a college education. We have the jobs, but will we have the trained work force?
While there is a greater need for people to get a college education, for many college is cost-prohibitive — unless they are willing to take on significant debt.
That’s why Gov. Cuomo has put forward a nation-leading program to make college more affordable for our middle — and working-class families. Called the Excelsior Scholarship, more than 900,000 families making up to $125,000 per year would qualify to attend New York’s public higher education systems — SUNY or CUNY — tuition free.
It would work by closing the gap between the state’s many other tuition aid programs and the total cost of tuition for all those families. New York’s plan, unlike in any other state in the nation, applies to four-year colleges as well as community colleges.
Sadly, however, some special-interest groups are bent on derailing this critically important initiative by throwing out spurious arguments. Let me address a few core inaccuracies.
Contrary to critics, this program does not treat New York’s private universities unfairly. The governor has long been a proponent of school choice.
This year’s executive budget provides $400 million in state grants to private colleges, and the governor has invested more than $2.4 billion in private schools since 2011. The state also provides grants to approximately 90,000 students to attend private schools. The state of New York’s investment in private colleges is greater than that of any other state besides Texas.
Yet even with the unprecedented state support for private schools in this year’s budget, some private colleges are demanding even more funding, so that they are treated essentially the same as public schools under the governor’s program.
We can’t and shouldn’t do it. The average tuition for a private school in New York is $34,000 a year compared to roughly $6,400 at SUNY and CUNY four-year schools and $4,300 at our community colleges.
This program isn’t against private school — it’s about providing the most people with the greatest opportunity to attend college tuition free. That goal is met most cost-effectively by partnering with SUNY and CUNY.
Others have argued the cost estimates of the governor’s Excelsior Scholarship program are low — but that is because it works with already existing programs to close the “last mile” of tuition costs. It combines New York’s already robust $1 billion Tuition Assistance Program with federal grant funding, and then fills in any remaining gaps.
Then there are those who say free tuition will equal lower-quality education. Nonsense. It means providing many an opportunity to excel because admissions standards, being in good academic standing and graduating on time are all required. In other words, a student must earn it — there are no giveaways.
Finally, the governor’s program incentivizes on-time completion by requiring students to attend college full-time, graduating with an Associate’s Degree in two years or a Bachelor’s Degree in four years.
The reason for that: Because students don’t often graduate on time (or at all), they take on additional and avoidable student debt. In New York, 61% of four-year students don’t graduate on time, and 91% of our two-year community college students don’t graduate on time.
We’re aiming to change that, so students will save money and reduce their overall debt burden. Still, recognizing there may be circumstances that make it necessary to temporarily pause their education, the governor’s proposal also includes a “stepping out” provision so that students will be able to pause and restart the program later.
The governor’s free tuition program is a common-sense and affordable initiative to expand access to higher education to thousands of additional New Yorkers who struggle to make ends meet.
It used to be that having a high school diploma gave workers a competitive advantage. No more. The governor wants to give more middle-class families the chance to go college to earn the degree needed to meet the next generation of workforce challenges. His plan deserves enthusiastic support by the Legislature.