At 11:00 a.m., April 12, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo (D) signed into effect the Excelsior Scholarship. This plan, touted as the “Free College Plan,” comes with some caveats and leaves New Yorkers with pressing questions. Supporters include Senator Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton. “College is what high school was 70 years ago. College is not a luxury, it is a necessity,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said the other day.

Some basic qualifications include:

  • Income for 2017-2018 is $100,000, 2018-2019 is $110,000, 2019-2020 is $125,000
  • Minimum of 30 credits per academic year with “waivers allowed on a case-by-case basis”
  • Students must stay in the state for a minimum of four years post graduation
  • Minimum GPA

The scholarship is estimated to cost around $163,000,000 and critics have already publicly provided what they believe to be more accurate estimates— all of which are much more expensive than the currently proposed number.

In general, students have expressed favorable views on social media and elsewhere. Parents (a.k.a taxpayers) are not rejoicing it however.

One Levittown mother feels as though the plan ignores larger families. She says that her family’s estimated combined income is around $200,000. While that does seem like a healthy income, she points out that it is somewhat misleading. “I have three children and live in Nassau County. $200,000 does not get me [as] far [as Governor Cuomo] believes.” She does have a point. The income in this legislation is a family’s gross adjusted income— meaning that it is prior to taxes and necessary bills (eg. home heating, water, electricity, etc.) Some have proposed to use the EFC (estimated family contribution) number instead.

Additionally, the number does not take into account the cost of living relative to region in NY. New York is a diverse state in terms of property, sales, school and other taxes. For instance, the price of real estate differs tremendously. As published in a 2014 report, 28 of the top 500 most expensive zip codes are situated here on Long Island. In upstate NY, the real estate is significantly less developed and less expensive.

It is estimated that some 80,000 students in the system for this upcoming academic year will benefit from the scholarship. Analysts, both private and state-employed, have yet to determine the effects this will have on the system. Will SUNY schools be inundated with applications, increasing admissions selectivity?

Current critique of SUNY system:

Tuition is $6,000 for four year schools, on average and $4,000 for two year community colleges. “Room and board is the real killer,” says SUNY student Alexandra Horemis.  At SUNY Binghamton, the total cost of attendance is around $15,000. The difference between in and out of state costs of attendance at a SUNY is around $16,000.

For UCLA, difference is $28,000. Some residents have argued that some of the funding should come from out of state tuition increases; or at least charge out of state students more for the cost of room and board in order to decrease the cost for New York students.

A major critique of the Excelsior Scholarship:

Suppose you earn $125,0001. Salary cut off is $125,000 and tuition is about $6000. In theory, that extra dollar you earned cost you $6000 in tuition benefit ? Or if you make $130,000 do you ask your boss to cut your salary by $5000 so you could save $1000. And don’t these scenarios set up the state to collect less income tax as well?

Some more cynical New Yorkers claim that this will only further encourage off the books employment and people manipulating salaries to qualify. As it is, many people (especially civil servants) are frustrated that families manipulate the FAFSA when filing for federal financial aid.

Proposed solution:

A sliding scale that still provides benefits but also encourages earning a higher income should be considered. Perhaps paying $50 toward tuition for every $100 you earn above $125,000. The current cliff removes incentive and encourages wage suppression.

Students React

“For some people it’s acting as an incentive for them not to work in general or work hard for scholarships”
– Michelle Vayner, SUNY Brockport
“I think it’s a good idea. College can be a real burden for some families and I think the excelsior scholarship is definitely a step in the right direction.”
– Alexandra Horemis, SUNY Cortland
“I was a little concerned at first, but I think everything is moving in the right direction”
– James Regetareio, SUNY Oswego
“My main critique is that it doesn’t take into account how many kids you have in college at the same time” Stephanie has a twin sister, also in the system
– Stephanie Vayner, SUNY Binghamton
“It gives people hope for there future. And it may stop the drug problem on Long Island. Think about the kids that live in those bad neighborhoods not doing shit with their lives after high school now they have a chance instead of dealing and doing drugs”
– Carlos Diaz, SUNY Suffolk County
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