Debate Rages Over New York’s Free Public College Plan For Middle Class Students

FARMINGDALE, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Some in New York are rejoicing Monday, as students from families who earn less than $125,000 a year are now eligible for free public college tuition.

But it may come with an unexpected price.

Some public college students in New York know how difficult it can be to split the costs of higher education with their parents. Now, an historic move from Albany that some have called a “game changer” will make tuition free at both City University and State University of New York system schools.

“I’d love them to be in college,” Kathy Coley of Farmingdale State College tells CBS2’s Jennifer McLogan. “We had an open house on Saturday and I saw some families come in so nervous.”

Nervous, she says, about their ability to pay for the rising cost of college tuition.

Now, those worthy enough will get a fair shot.

“It’s great for struggling families out there who really need to go to school and want to really go to school but don’t have the opportunity to go,” Farmingdale State junior Jeremy Sullivan said.

But some are concerned that the new program could be a smokescreen for a backdoor tuition hike, amounting to $200 per year over the next five years.

Doug Kellogg of Reclaim New York says the plan was not properly vetted.

“We already have the highest tax burden in the country combined statewide,” he says. “Long Island is even worse because the cost of living is so high. So the deal here is a very raw one for Long Island taxpayers.”

Others say they’re worried about exploding admissions.

“I understand what they’re trying to do,” Farmingdale State freshman Joe Grybowski said. “Trying to give more people opportunities to go to school, but that makes the competition more fierce. Everyone will have bachelors or associates degrees, making it harder to get a job.”

Experts say statistics show a college education translates into a job, and that Albany can do more to help.

“It’s a good start, but it doesn’t cover room and board,” Lisa Tyson from the Long Island Progressive Coalition said. “Most students need room and board, that’s where the big expenses are. So really a good start, but not enough.”

As news of the budget deal spreads, supporters are coming out against the concept of “tethering” — the provision that requires the college graduates to live and work in New York State for the same number of years they accepted the free tuition for.

CBS2 reports a new $3,000 grant program will be created for students who attend private colleges in-state. The private college or university in question would be required to match the yearly grant.

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