ALBANY, N.Y. (CBSNewYork/AP) — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing to offer free tuition at New York public colleges to eligible state residents.
But the plan is already getting pushback.
As CBS2’s Tony Aiello reported, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-Vermont) appeared with Cuomo when he announced the plan Tuesday at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.
Loud music drowned out the “Bernie” chants for Sanders. But Cuomo soon had students cheering himself with his Sanders-esque plan aimed at middle-class families.
“However we can help you do well, we will because your success is our success,” Cuomo said. “That’s the American dream and the American dream lives in the State of New York and no one is taking it away.”
Under the plan, so-called Excelsior Scholarships will supplement the Pell and TAP grant programs. Students can use all three to cover full tuition at State University of New York or City University of New York college, including two-year community colleges, if their families earn less than $125,000.
Of current college education debt, the governor declared, “it’s like starting like a race with an anchor tied to your leg,” WCBS 880’s Rich Lamb reported.
Sanders touted the plan to the packed auditorium, 1010 WINS’ Juliet Papa reported.
“What Governor Cuomo is proposing is a revolutionary idea for higher education!” Sanders said.
He added, “It’s an idea that’s going to reverberate not only throughout the state of New York, but throughout this country.”
Cuomo’s new initiative comes with a $163 million price tag – money that Cuomo aides said will come from the state’s General Fund – tax revenue.
The proposal will be phased in over three years and must be approved by the state Legislature.
The cost for SUNY and CUNY schools averages about $6,500 for a four-year degree. A two-year degree at a community college averages $4,800 a year.
Former Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton also tweeted support, and the students in the audience gave thumbs up.
“It would mean the world,” said high school student Caitlin de Jesus of Jackson Heights, Queens, “because I wouldn’t have to worry about being in debt.”
“It will give me an opportunity for a higher education, and to achieve and be something in life,” said high school senior Brielle Fantauzzi of East Elmhurst.
Cuomo’s plan will not cover room and board, which averages $14,000 on SUNY campuses. Thus, some students might still end up needing loans.
Because of that, the Green Party said Cuomo is “posturing to the left” with a “wholly inadequate plan.” The group Reclaim New York said the state cannot afford the governor’s “free college tuition blank check.”
Lawmakers also have many questions, such as why aid should be limited just to people who attend CUNY and SUNY schools.
“It’s not equitable, and we need to have an equitable program that covers all of our colleges,” state Sen. Martin Golden (R-Brooklyn) told CBS2 Political Reporter Marcia Kramer.
State Sen. Terrence Murphy (R-Shrub Oak), who represents Westchester and Putnam counties, said making college affordable is a modern-day crisis that needs to be addressed. But he wants to know who qualifies and where the money is coming from.
“That’s the $163 million question, that we all need to see the details on exactly how the governor is proposing to pay for this,” Murphy said. “Is it for U.S. citizens, or is it for illegals?”
Lawmakers worry the governor is trying to resurrect a proposal they defeated last year to provide free tuition for illegal immigrants.
Also raising questions are those who have already graduated and have student loan debt. The executive director of the CUNY Alumni Association told CBS2 he expected recent graduates to be upset because they will not benefit.
New York state offers some help to recent graduates. It is the only state in the nation to provide up to two years of loan forgiveness to recent graduates.
Cuomo’s proposal would have the program starting this fall. The governor’s plan would require approval by the Legislature.
New York has the nation’s largest public university system, with 440,000 students spread among 64 campuses across the state.
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