April 12, 2017
Albany, NY

Video, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Enacting First-In-The-Nation Excelsior Scholarship Program To Provide Tuition-Free College To Middle-Class Families

Video, Photos & Rush Transcript: Governor Cuomo Signs Legislation Enacting First-In-The-Nation Excelsior Scholarship Program To Provide Tuition-Free College To Middle-Class Families

First-in-the-Nation Program Makes NYS Public Universities Tuition-Free for Families Making Up to $125,000 Per Year, Alleviating Crushing Burden of Student Debt and Placing More New Yorkers on Path to Financial Security Nearly 80 Percent or More Than 940,000 Families with College-Aged Children Across New York Qualify for Tuition-Free College at SUNY and CUNY Under Governor’s Bold Plan

Earlier today, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo signed legislation enacting the Excelsior Scholarship, the first-of-its-kind in the nation program to provide tuition-free college at New York’s public universities to families making up to $125,000 a year. The legislation was passed as part of the FY 2018 Budget, and was the Governor’s first proposal in his 2017 State of the State. The Budget additionally includes $8 million to provide open educational resources, including e-books, to students at SUNY and CUNY colleges to help defray the cost of textbooks. The Governor signed the legislation at LaGuardia Community College, joined by Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. More information is available here.

VIDEO of the event is available on YouTube here and in TV quality (h264 format) here.

AUDIO of the event is available here.

PHOTOS of the event are available on the Governor's Flickr page.

A rush transcript of Governor Cuomo's and Secretary Clinton's remarks is available below.

Governor Cuomo: Good morning LaGuardia Community College. Are we happy to have Secretary Hillary Clinton here today? Well it is my pleasure to be back at LaGuardia Community College. We’ve done a lot of great events here, a lot of good announcements. It is a beautiful college. The students are doing great. The administration is doing great. Thank you LaGuardia for hosting us today. Let’s give them a round of applause. It's also a pleasure to be back in Queens. I am a Queens boy. Hollis, Queens. When I travel around the country, they always say to me, "Is that a New York accent you have?" I say, "No no that's a Queens accent I have and I am proud of it." You know, growing up in Queens, I couldn't have grown up in a better borough that gave me a better upbringing and better values and really exposed to every issue that I was going to deal with throughout my life. When you grow up in Queens, you grow up with middle class, you grow up part of a working family. We're not rich in Queens but that's okay, because we believe in the future. We believe if we work hard and we use our talents you can do better. And that's what made Queens Queens. We believed in the mobility. We believed in the dream. We believe that tomorrow is going to be better than today and we work hard in Queens and we play by the rule in Queens, but Queens also knew that that was part of the compact that we had as New Yorkers. That you could reach your dreams and society would work with you to do that, and part of that is the public education system and making sure you have a public education system that'll take you to the top.

But somewhere along the way, that bright light of optimism dimmed and people aren't as sure anymore if they're going to have the ability to make it up that ladder. Part of it is wages for the middle class stagnated over time and you look at the wages of the middle class, they've basically been flat 20 years. Part of it is the key to mobility was education. Today more and more jobs require college education. Since 2008, 95 percent of the jobs created require some type of college education. 95 percent. So you need a college education. But a college education has become harder and harder to get. It's more and more expensive. You can't go to the family and say, "Pay the tuition." They can't. You go and you get loans. You graduate with a mountain of debt you pay for half your life. So that's been the issue and it’s been an issue not just for individuals, it's been an issue for this state and this country.

This state used to have the most educated workforce in the United States of America and that's important. When I'm trying to bring a business to New York, you know what they ask me? They ask me do you have the educated workforce in New York. The state with the most educated workforce is the state that is going to succeed long-term from an economic development point of view. New York was number one in the nation, now New York is number 12 in the nation. And it’s not just a problem for New York State, it’s a problem for this country. This country had the most educated workforce on the globe. Today, we are number 11 when it comes to having the most educated workforce. So it’s not just an individual’s hope. It’s the long term economic prospects for this state and for this nation. And we have to do something about it and 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 this globe.

So we needed a big idea. And I was at home and I was watching the presidential campaign last election season. Well I wasn’t just watching the presidential campaign, I was actually actively engaged in supporting a candidate in that presidential campaign. This is not a political event so I don’t want to name any names. But I was supporting the woman in the race. Let me just say that.

And I heard an outrageously ambitious idea, but an irrefutably smart idea. And that idea was we should make college affordable, college should be accessible, college should be free for middle class families in this nation. So every middle class family can go to college. And it is smart. Look, 70 years ago, we made a decision as a society that people needed high school. And some people said, oh, you’re being frivolous. You don’t need a high school education. But society said, yes we do. If you want to continue to grow, to continue to educate and prosper, we need high school. And we had free public high school for everyone. And that was a bold step. Well today my friends college is what high school was 70 years ago.

It is not a luxury it is a necessity. And if we’re not going to have it on the federal level, then we’re not going to be denied it in New York, and New York State said we’re going to step up, and we’re going to take that idea and we’re going to make it a reality and we’re going to make it a reality in the great state of New York.

And the idea is very simple. We have free public college for any family who’s making $125,000 or below so no child will be denied college because they can’t afford it and the dream of opportunity is for everyone. And that belief in tomorrow, that belief in mobility, that belief that you can be bigger than your parents; you can do better than the generation before you. that this society will work with you and that nobody is going to be denied growth or advancement because of how much money they have in their pocket or the color of their skin or the country they come from.

That this state, and this nation, we say the dream lives and not just the dream of education but the dream that you can open your arms and you can embrace people from all over the globe and you can say we welcome you to come to New York, we welcome you to come to America, immigrants, educated, income, rich poor, come join the family of New York and we will work with you to do better because when you do better we all do better. That’s the dream. That is the dream and that my friends is what we call the Excelsior Scholarship.​ Excelsior because that’s the state motto, the motto of New York. It means ever upwards. Ever upwards. That’s what Queens is all about. That’s what the New York dream is all about. That’s what the American Dream is all about. Ever upwards together. That will make this place a better place and this scholarship program is going to transform lives. Tonight, there will be no child that puts their head on the pillow and wonders whether or not they’re going to have a chance to make it.

We say, “Every child has a chance to make it in our New York.” That’s what this is about today. And the inspiration for the idea came from a woman who I know very, very well, who I spent eight years with in Washington. I traveled all across the globe. Who was a phenomenal partner in an administration that did great things for this nation with a record of accomplishment second-to-none – a Secretary of State that was all over the world and brought respect back to the United States. A Senator from New York who fought for us. Who was there for us on 9/11 when we needed a champion and went to Washington and got us support so we could do the rebuilding we needed to do in New York. She is so good, that if I didn’t know better, I would think she grew up in Queens – I’ll tell you the truth. Now you give a great Queens welcome to our inspiration and our champion: Secretary Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Secretary Clinton: I’ll take it. Hello LaGuardia. I am thrilled to be here at this community college named for a great New Yorker. He is smiling down today because this is exactly the image that progressive leadership believes in and delivers on and I am so grateful to my friend and our governor, for taking this idea and not just talking about it but actually making it happen for the young men and women of our state. Now, I didn’t have the great honor of growing up in Queens, but I’ve spend a lot of time here and I always used to say when I was your senator that Queens was the most diverse county in the United States, which made it the most diverse place in the entire world. Queens is a place where people grow up, where they immigrate to, where they chase their dreams, where they raise their families – make their contributions. It is an example of what we believe is best about New York and best about America.

So it is a tremendous honor for me to be here with the Governor. I want to thank the Lieutenant Governor, my longtime friend who is here. I want to thank your president, Dr. Gail Mellow who is here. I want to thank all the state senators and assembly members, the council members, members of the administration, the CUNY and SUNY trustees who are also here – who are working with the Governor to make this a reality. I want to thank labor leaders and organizers and union members who stand for progressive ideas. And on a note of what they used to say in the senate on personal privilege, I want to recognize two longtime friends, Reverend Floyd Flake and former Congressman Charlie Rangel.

Okay, now really, this is an idea whose time has come and here’s why. If you go back a little over a hundred years and what we called at that time, the progressive era, there were a lot of voices speaking out for what we needed to do provide greater opportunities, more ladders that would provide upward mobility to more people. What happened in that period, starting in the early Twentieth Century, under both Republicans and Democrats, people like Teddy Roosevelt, like Franklin Roosevelt, is that we began to live up to this nation’s most fundamental values. We put people first. We helped people get the tools that they needed to make the most out for their own lives, and nothing then or now, was more important than education. Here in New York, you have the CUNY system, which was a real commitment to provide free or very low-cost education to people who came from everywhere seeking it. There is no more important issue than education from early childhood, pre-school education through higher education. I believe every single child and every single young person in New York and America deserves the chance to go as far as their hard-work, their skills, their education will take them.

I cannot tell you adequately how thrilled I was when the Governor, as you heard him say, took this idea and said, “It’s going to happen in New York,” and because of that hard-work that he and members of the Assembly and the State Senate put behind this idea, now it is a reality. We decided that it would be affordable because it was a high priority. We decided that it would reach the vast majority of working families and middle-class families, which it will. We decided that it would translate into reality – the encouragement that we give to people as they are in high school to go further. Let me make this point, because it’s a really significant change. Back when I was going to college – I came from a middle-class family, you had a pretty good chance to go to college and afford it if your family’s income was in what they say is the lower quartile. In other words, the lower 25 percent of incomes – a lot of hard-working people, a lot of single-parent families, but they had the chance to go because the economics worked in their favor. States made investments. The federal government made investments. Now, it is so much harder if you’re from the lower half of income when it comes to families. That’s upside down, my friends. You know, what we need to be doing is showing open the doors for everybody willing to work and achieve their education.

Now, Andrew Cuomo understood that. And I am so proud that he has produced this. And I hope it’s the first of many states. I think both Andrew and I would be delighted to have other states say, we don’t want New York to be the only, only state providing tuition free college for the middle class. We’re going to do it. But until they do, I want every young person in America to understand, you move to New York, you make your commitment in New York, you can get an affordable college education. I think that would be only fair that young people would come here, all over the state, not just to New York City, to find the community college that provided the program that they wanted. To find the four year college in the SUNY system that offered them the best path forward. So I am here today to reinforce what the Governor has accomplished. His point is absolutely right—education and training are the future. And I think it’s fair to say it’s also the fastest way to give working and middle class families a raise. Right? So the Excelsior Scholarship is going to send a message of hope to countless families. And I hope it will also send a message to employers that they want to start making plans to come to New York, because New York will provide exactly the kind of workforce that the Governor has promised. Paying for college should not defer or destroy dreams. And with this Excelsior Scholarship program, it will not. Now I’m hoping too, that the Congress will come to its senses and will understand we don’t need to be building walls, we need to be building bridges. And the best, the best bridge to the future is a good education, my friends. So let’s go make it official and watch as the Governor signs the Excelsior Scholarship legislation.

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