I was talking to my dad on the phone yesterday, and I told him that it was looking like my family should pick up and move to New York. You see, my younger brother graduates from high school in a year, and we need to make sure he has in-state status for when he goes to college. Why New York though? Because they just made higher education tuition free for families making less than $125,000 (with a little help from Bernie Sanders of course) through the Excelsior Scholarship. And higher education here doesn’t just mean community college like it does in some states and counties across the nation, which is a great first step that cuts a lot of costs and makes higher education more attainable for many people. In New York, however, it will also include four-year colleges that are part of the State University of New York and City University of New York systems, meaning a ton of campuses all across the state.
As with anything, though, there are drawbacks to this. Most jarringly, this really doesn’t cover all that many families. As someone who comes from a small city that isn’t very close to any other cities (so not Northern Virginia), $125,000 seems very reasonable to me. Even with it starting off at $100,000 this fall and working up to $125,000 in fall 2019, my family, being solidly middle class, would always qualify. New York, however, particularly the city, has a much higher cost of living. The state average is 29% higher than the nation’s average, with Hawaii being the only state that has a higher cost of living. This means that this isn’t helping quite as many families as you might expect, though the estimate is almost 1 million.
Plus, not so surprising, there’s a catch to all this. You really thought they were going to give you money completely free? Nope, people who use this Excelsior Scholarship to get an associate’s degree have to remain in New York afterwards for two years, and those who get a bachelor’s have to remain for four years. This does make sense, the idea being “You are an investment we’re making and we need to see a return in OUR economy.” I get why it’s set up this way, but it means that if there is some unforeseeable change in post-graduation plans, this “free” tuition becomes a loan that has to be payed back, and unexpectedly. Yet another loan, actually, because plenty of people this scholarship covers will need to take out other loans to cover books and living expenses as this only covers tuition itself.
So, while this is a solid step in the right direction, there are plenty of issues with it. Hopefully other states will follow in New York’s footsteps, but do so in a way that improves upon it and helps greater numbers of people. Higher education that is affordable for everyone is not going to happen right away, but at least we’re starting to work towards that goal.
Featured Image: www.GlynLowe.com flickr, CC