New York is set to become the first U.S. state to make tuition free for students at public state universities and community colleges if they come from low- and middle-income families, a proposal that has been endorsed by former presidential candidate Senator Bernie Sanders, who promised free college education for all during his campaign.
The new plan, which is part of a deal struck by New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and the lawmakers as part of the state’s new almost US$160 billion budget, would see the state covering tuition for any student from a family earning less than US$125,000 a year by 2019.
“Today, college is what high school was — it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it,” Cuomo said in a statement Saturday using a similar analogy as Sanders during his campaign last year. “With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”
Starting this fall, undergraduate students who attend a state university or a will be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship if their families earn no more than US$100,000 a year. The income cap will increase to US$110,000 next year and will reach US$125,000 in 2019.
Other expenses such as room and board, which can cost up to US$12,590, would not be covered under the plan. Students would also have to stay and work in the state after graduation for a period of time equivalent to the duration of their studies.
The plan would potentially benefit almost 1 million families with college-age children in the state and would cost the state up to about US$163 million a year, according to Cuomo. The state congress is expected to approve the plan by Monday.
Cuomo announced the plan in January alongside Sanders, a senator from Vermont and a Brooklyn native, who had ignited massive support among young people in the United States because of his progressive policies on education and healthcare when he ran for president last year.
From the start of his presidential campaign in 2015, Sanders promised to make tuition free for everyone who attends state colleges.
The promise helped draw huge crowds of young people to his campaign rallies which forced Clinton to endorse some of his progressive policies, including on university tuition. She originally only promised to reduce student debt but then endorsed a plan more similar to Cuomo’s.