January 3, 2017
Albany, NY

Video, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Presents 1st Proposal Of 2017 State Of The State: Making College Tuition-Free For New York’s Middle Class Families

TOP Video, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor...

U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders Joins Governor for Announcement at LaGuardia Community College

First-in-the-Nation Program Provides Free Tuition to New Yorkers Making Up to $125,000 Per Year at all SUNY and CUNY Two- and Four-Year Colleges

Groundbreaking Initiative Makes New York State Public Universities Tuition-Free, Alleviating Crushing Burden of Student Loans and Placing More New Yorkers on Path to Financial Security

New Excelsior Scholarships Program Encourages More Students to Graduate On Time, Helping to Improve Graduation Rates at New York Public Colleges


Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo, with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, today unveiled the 1st signature proposal of his 2017 agenda: making college tuition-free for New York’s middle class families at all SUNY and CUNY two- and four-year colleges. New York’s tuition-free college degree program, the Excelsior Scholarship, is the first of its kind in the nation and will help alleviate the crushing burden of student debt while enabling thousands of bright young students to realize their dream of higher education.

Under this groundbreaking proposal, more than 940,000 middle class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year would qualify to attend college tuition-free at all public universities in New York State. The Excelsior Scholarship program will ensure that students statewide, regardless of their socio-economic status, have the opportunity to receive a quality education and gain the skills they need to succeed in our global economy. More information is available here.

VIDEO of the full announcement is available on YouTube here and in and in TV quality (h264, mp4) format here.

AUDIO of today’s event is available here.

PHOTOS of the announcement will be available of the Governor’s Flickr page.

A rush transcript of the Governor’s remarks is available below:

Governor Cuomo: Thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you. Thank you very, very much. We are fired up this morning. First, let’s give Bill Thompson, who is the chairman of CUNY and doing a great job, let’s give him a big round of applause. To all my colleagues in the Assembly, all my colleagues in the Senate, all my colleagues in the City Council who are here, let’s give them a round of applause. And to our brothers and sisters from the labor movement who are in the house, thank you for being here. And to our special guest, Senator Sanders from Vermont, through Brooklyn. Let’s give him a round of applause.

Now, for me, this is a special treat. This time of year I do something called the State of the State. The State of the State is where the Governor lays out the initiatives, the priorities, for the coming year. And I’m doing it a little different this year. Rather than going up and giving one speech in Albany, I’m going all across the state and speaking to the people of the state about the issues that are important to them, and then we’ll wind up in Albany. And this is the first issue that I want to address, and in many ways, I believe it is the most important issue that this state and this nation must address, which is higher education and the affordability of higher education. And that’s why we’re here today.

I wanted to start in Queens, because I am an old Queens boy. I went to work in Washington during the Clinton administration. I was there for eight years. I traveled all across the country and I’d be in some state, and I’d be speaking and someone would come up to me afterwards and say, “Is that a New York accent?” and I would say, “No, no, no, that’s a Queens accent, and I am proud of it!” Now when I was growing up, Queens, Brooklyn, Bronx, we had a little competition among us, especially with those Brooklyn boys. Both Bill Thompson and Bernie Sanders are Brooklyn boys. Competition was always about - between Queens and Brooklyn - was who had the best sports teams, who had the coolest clubs, who dressed better. And I think Brooklyn was always a little jealous of Queens I’ll tell you the truth. I think what it was, was the ladies in Brooklyn really preferred the men from Queens. Do you agree with me? Yeah.

But whether you’re from Queens or you were from Brooklyn or you were from Bronx or Staten Island you were from the Outer Borrows. That’s what they called it the outer borrows. And they never told you what the inner borough was. And I don’t know that there is an inner borough but you were from the outer borough. And that meant something that you from the outer borough. You were from Queens you were from Brooklyn it meant you were middle class. You were working men and women. You were new immigrants and you were just starting. And you weren’t rich because if you were rich you wouldn’t be in the outer borough. You would be in the inner boroughs and the inner circle. And you were from the outer boroughs but that was okay. And it was okay because you believed in your heart that you could make it. That the way this country worked, the way this state worked, you could work your way up and you could get to that inner circle. And you could be as successful as anyone. And the great equalizer was the public education system. That with a public education you could go from anywhere and wind up anything.

You could be Mario Cuomo, my father born to poor Italian immigrants in South Jamaica, Queens and you could wind up Governor of the state of New York all from the public education system. And Mario Cuomo’s story was repeated over and over and over again. Colin Powell from the Bronx winds up in the White House all from the public education system. And that’s what made it okay. And that’s why you weren’t angry because this society promised mobility. And you could do better and your children could do better and those were the rules of the game. And then somewhere along the way something changed. The economy changed and the economy became more sophisticated and now it wasn’t enough just to go to a public school and a public high school and work hard. Because now you needed real skills.

When that economy changed from a manufacturing economy to a high-tech economy, it changed everything. Long Island City, this was all manufacturing businesses. This building was the Sunshine Biscuit Company, and you could come here and you could run a machine and you could drive a truck and you would be just fine. But those days are over. This economy, you need a college education if you’re going to compete.

We have 7.95 million jobs in this state today, more jobs than have ever existed in this history of the state of New York. That’s the good news. The bad news is 70 percent of those jobs require a college education, 70 percent. And it is incredibly hard and getting harder to get a college education today. It is incredibly expensive and the debt is so high it’s like starting a race with an anchor tied to your leg. Average college debt -- $30,000 per student -- just think about that, and half of the student debt in New York is higher than $30,000. That is not fair. That is not right. The rule of the game was everybody has a fair shot at success -- that is America. And when you take that away, you take away the spirit and the values that made this country this country. And the truth is that if you want to offer everybody a fair shot, then you have to get up-to-date and you have to say what high school was 75 years ago, college is today. College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success. And the way this society said ‘We’re going to pay for high school because you need high school,’ this society should say ‘We’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful.’ And New York State, New York State is going to do something about it and we’re going to start this year the Excelsior Scholarship, which says very simply, free tuition to a state 2-year school or a 4-year school if you come from any family earning $125,000 or less, the state will provide free tuition.

It’s the first program -- it is, thank you, it is, it is going to be the first program like it in the United States of America. It’s once again New York leading the way. The way we did on raising the minimum wage, the way we did on paid family leave, the way we did on passing marriage equality, the way we did on gun safety, and it should be a wake-up call to this nation. To say, if you really want to be competitive globally, we have to have the best educated workforce, and that means we have to have college for every child, man, or woman who wants to attend. Other countries have already done it. It’s time this country catches up. It’s time this country says to every citizen, you can be whatever you want to be in America. I don’t care the color of your skin, I don’t care your sexual identity, I don’t care your zip code, I don’t care how much money you have in your pocket. What this country says is we welcome you here to the family of America, we welcome you to the family of New York, and we’re going to work with you, to do better than ever before, and the sky is the limit. And however we can help you do well, we will, because your success is our success. That’s the American dream, and the American dream lives in the state of New York and no one is taking it away, and that’s what this program is all about.

Now, I have the good pleasure to introduce our special guest. Senator Sanders spoke for the middle class and the working men and women across this nation and the issues that are important to them. He spoke to this issue of college affordability, and was ahead of his time in doing it, and really awoke the nation to this crisis of college affordability. And we all owe him a big thank you and round of applause for what he did. And let’s give a big New York welcome to a Brooklyn boy, because you can take, you can take the boy out of Brooklyn, but you can’t take Brooklyn out of the boy -- Senator Bernie Sanders.

A rush transcript of Senator Sander’s full remarks are available below:

Senator Sanders: “Governor Cuomo, thank you very much. As a graduate of P.S. 197 in Brooklyn, as a graduate of James Madison High School in Brooklyn, one year at Brooklyn College – I am delighted to be here this morning. I think Bill and Governor Cuomo have laid out the issue. And the issue is that at a time when we have a president-elect who thinks it’s a great idea to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the top two tenths of one percent, we have a better idea. And that idea is to make public colleges and universities tuition free for every person in New York State, in Vermont, and in America.

Governor Cuomo made the points, and it’s a point I believe. I’ve been going all over this country talking about this issue that democrats, republicans and independents understand. And that is the economy has changed. Technology has changed. The global economy has changed. And if we are going to do justice to the working families of this country, the low income families. If we are going to have an economy that creates the kinds of jobs that we need for our people, we must have the best educated workforce in the world. And here is a truth, which is an unpleasant truth, but it’s a truth none the less and that is 30 or so years ago we had in this country the highest percentage of college graduates of any nation on earth. We were number one. Today we are number 11. That is not what America is supposed to be about. And today what Governor Cuomo is proposing, is a revolutionary idea for higher education and it’s an idea that is going to reverberate not only throughout the state of New York, but throughout this country.

“And what that idea is, is that it is basically insane to tell the young people of this country, “We want you to go out and get the best education you can. We want you to get the jobs of the future. Oh but by the way, after you leave school, you're going to be $30,000, $50,000, $100,000 in debt. You're going to graduate school? You're going to medical school? You're going to dental school? Well you may be a couple of hundreds thousands of dollars in debt. And you're going to have to spend decades paying off that debt. And if you don't pay off that debt, when you're old they may garnish your social security payment to pay off that debt.

“Our job is to encourage every person in this country to get all of the education he or she can, not to punish them for getting that education. And even more importantly, what the Governor's proposal is telling, today, the people of New York State, tomorrow, the rest of the country, is something enormously profound. And that is, if you are a kid in Queens whose family, like my family, never had a whole lot of money; whose parents never went to college; who today, does not believe that you will ever be able to get a college education; who today does not believe that you will ever be able to get a college education. What today's message is about is if you are in the fourth or fifth grade, if you start studying hard, you will in fact be able to get the college education you need to make it to the middle class, regardless of the income of your family. That is revolutionary.

“That is a message that is going to provide hope and optimism for working class families all across the state. And here is a prediction that I make, in urging the New York State Legislature to follow the Governor’s lead to pass this legislation, here's my prediction. If New York State does it this year, mark my words, state after state will follow. And the day will come when we understand that public education in America is not simply kindergarten through high school. But that public education in the year 2017 means making public colleges and public universities tuition-free. Governor Cuomo, thank you so much.”

Contact the Governor's Press Office
Contact the Governor's Press Office