Free tuition, free of worries, right?

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In the conversation of colleges and universities, student debt is often an unwanted but frequent subject brought into conversation. From applying to college for the first time to post-graduation, the continuous discussions of financial aid, student loans and money serve as reminders of the literal price we pay for our education.
Throughout our academic careers we compete with peers for scholarships. We understand why some of our friends juggle multiple jobs and appreciate our generous relatives for the extra financial help, simply because it is needed. We worry at times how we will pay back all of our steep student loans and question exactly how long that will take.
College is all fun and games until it’s time to check our bank accounts and school financial statements.
Worries aside, try and imagine a world where college meant less student debt and more financial breaks. Where the nuisances of student loans no longer loomed over our heads and the label ‘broke college student’ no longer
applied. Sounds pretty nice, right?
In attempts to turn this tantalizing vision into a reality, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was determined to do just that. While the discussion on free college tuition is not entirely new, as it was popularly debated in the recent election, this past January, Cuomo created a proposal for free tuition granted to students attending New York’s public colleges and universities. With this proposal, Cuomo’s goal was to ultimately minimize financial stress and maximize opportunities for students. In his proposal, he emphasized the importance of students receiving an equal opportunity to receive and pay for their education. Throughout his proposal, Cuomo argued, “In this economy, you need a college education if you’re going to compete.”
After a few months, the New York Senate passed the Excelsior Scholarship Program on Monday, April 10. Although other states have free tuition at community colleges, New York is the first state to make four-year public
colleges tuition-free as well.
The program is aimed toward middle-class families in order to assist in lessening accumulated student debts. In order to qualify for the program, one must first be an undergraduate student in the state of New York. Next, the student’s family income must fall within the income cap of the current year. For the first year starting this fall, families who earn $100,000 or less annually are eligible. The income cap will rise up to $110,000 next year and then increase again to $125,000 by 2019. The annual dollar amount is based on the adjusted gross income report on each family’s most recent tax return.
Like most free things in life, there is a catch. Although there is no age limit, students must be enrolled full-time, at all times, and approximately be taking 30 credits per year. Once a student graduates, that student must continue to live and work in New York for the same amount of time he or she received funding from the program. If that student leaves, the scholarship money will be transformed back into a loan. This way, students have to work in New York, after the state invested in those students and their education.
However, this condition may be problematic to some. “It’s a good start, but there are still loopholes that need to be addressed,”  said North Central faculty member Dave Sibley. “At the moment it is disadvantageous for minorities, first generation college students and people who are from a lower socioeconomic status who may not be able to get work in the state of New York after they graduate. In this case, students may then be locked into being residents of the state due to the program.”
While many applaud Cuomo’s revolutionary plan, there are still areas that need to be looked over once more. The prevalent question of who is going to supply a majority of the funding comes into question. It is estimated the scholarship will cost around $163 million in the first year of operation and will most likely go up with the continuing years. In addition, another $8 million to help SUNY (State University of New York) and CUNY (The City University of New York) for additional resources needed such as textbooks.
In regards to the matter, NCC student Melissa Diaz said, “I think the program would be a good implement, but for it to last, the state should acknowledge that people will not always appreciate paying for it.”
Although it is still too soon to tell how successful the newly created scholarship program will be, it has once again shed light on a progressing problem in today’s day and age. In a recent study from The Princeton Review, with regards to college hopes and worries, the company found that 76 percent of the over 10,000 respondents (college applicants and their parents) reported high levels of stress when participating in the college admission process. In addition, 98 percent of the respondents stated financial aid would be necessary to pay for college, when the rising cost of college was mentioned.
As the price of tuition and cost of living for college increases, the question of whether a middle-class family’s ability to afford sending their student/s to college becomes hazy. The focus today is to find out how families can be helped in the most efficient and effective way. It is a topic that will have to be explored more because this program can potentially be the first step in figuring it out for generations of students to come.
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