New York Agrees on ‘Free Tuition’ Deal, but It Freezes Out Private Colleges

, Spencer Irvine, 1 Comment

photo by diana robinson

The state of New York now has “free” college tuition at New York state colleges and universities, that is, “free” for its students, primarily at the State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) schools and includes two-year community colleges and four-year universities. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo reached a deal with the state legislature and made the announcement this past week and the plan initially covers families that earn up to $100,000 in income this year (increasing over three years to cover families earning up to $125,000). The governor’s office claimed that within the three years of the plan, 940,000 families will be covered.

However, Cuomo and supporters of this deal claimed that the deal will cost $163 million, which some lawmakers rejected as too low of an estimate during Cuomo’s initial push this past January.

Other caveats of the deal are that those who receive “free tuition” must live and work in New York the same number of years that they have “free tuition” (in other words, a student would go to school for four years and after graduation, that student would have to live and work in New York for four additional years). If not, the student would see the “free college tuition” convert to student loans. To defer this requirement, a student could transfer out-of-state to complete their undergraduate degree, enroll in graduate school or claim “extreme hardship.” Also, $8 million of this deal goes towards free online education materials to lessen the cost of textbooks and a maximum award of $3,000 in grants for private college students. With the latter, private colleges are required to match the grant and freeze tuition for the duration of the grant.

Private colleges and universities claimed that they are hamstrung by the deal because it focuses on public colleges and universities. Private institutions were concerned that they would lose students to the CUNY and SUNY schools, and that the requirements of the deal were onerous. The president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York, Mary Beth Labate, said that the deal was “dispiriting” and now created a separate education system. She said, “There is a clear divide in the way students will be treated, depending on whether they go to a public or private institution.” Labate added that the provision for freezing tuition during a student’s attendance at a private college “would be bureaucratically difficult” and “colleges would have to ask if it was worth it.”

Community college leaders, however, initially gushed about the deal and believed that it will increase enrollment at their community college campuses. The deal also includes a minimum grade point average and credit hour enrollment for students who receive the “free tuition.”

Photo by diana_robinson