Bernie Sanders may shed a tear of pride today when he reads that one state is implementing part of his campaign platform: “free” college. Of course, readers should substitute “taxpayer funded” for “free” for the duration of this article.
Last night, New York approved a budget package that included free public college tuition for its residents. The state’s new “Excelsior Scholarship” program will be rolled out over the next three years in phases, and any prospective student from a family that earns under $100,000 a year will be eligible (to be raised to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019). The first beneficiaries will be those enrolling in the Fall 2017 semester.
After signing the new budget, Governor Andrew Cuomo said, “With this budget, New York has the nation’s first accessible college program. It’s a different model. Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it.”
NBC News reported:
[A]ccording to Cuomo’s office, the budget includes a record $7.5 billion for higher education — though that’s only a 6.3 percent increase from 2016.
An estimated 80 percent of New York State’s families with college-age kids could use the new program.The Excelsior Scholarship will be included in the state’s Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), and students will see that they are eligible when they fill out the forms this spring.
There is no age limit for the program; students must be enrolled full-time with an average of at least 30 credits per year and meet the minimum GPA requirement for their program.The state is also investing $8 million in electronic books in order to lower costs for students, a spokesperson for Cuomo’s office told NBC News.
Free coverage of two-year colleges already exists in Tennessee, Oregon, and Minnesota. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, about a dozen other states have seen legislation proposed that would do the same.
In January, Cuomo paired up with Sen. Bernie Sanders at a press conference to announce plans for the Excelsior Scholarship.
Of course, as the old saying in economics goes: there ain’t no such thing as a free lunch — and this lunch isn’t as generous as some might think. As Unbiased America pointed out:
• It only applies to those attending full-time at the State University of New York or City University of New York.
• It only applies to TUITION, with accounts for only 25% of college costs. The student must pay for the other 75% of college costs, or roughly $20,000 per year.
• Students ALREADY receive enough aid on average to pay for their entire tuition via existing programs. Students receive on average $7,000 in federal Pell Grants and New York TAP (Tuition Assistance Program) Grants, and that doesn’t even include scholarships, tax credits, and supplemental grants via FSEOG…more than enough to pay the entire tuition. The new scholarship will likely amount to just a few hundred dollars to cover whatever tuition isn’t already covered by these other grants.
• The “free” education will just be paid by NY residents in other ways (higher taxes, borrowing). It’s essentially what all politics is about…taking money away from people quietly and giving it back to them loudly.
Given that half of all recent college graduates work jobs that don’t require college degrees, perhaps taking money out of the real private sector to fund 4-year adult daycare isn’t the best idea, but who knows.
[Note: This post was written by Matt Palumbo. Follow him on Twitter @MattPalumbo12]