Long Island Benefits Least Under Cuomo Tuition-Free Program

free tuition

Long Island would benefit the least under New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to offer free tuition at state-run universities, according to a statewide eligibility breakdown released by the governor’s office Tuesday.

While the Long Island region boasts the second-largest number of families with college-age students in the state, the governor’s ambitious tuition-free program would only help a little more than half (55 percent) of those old enough to attend college—20 percent less than the state average, due to higher household incomes. (Full breakdown below).

According to Cuomo’s office, Nassau and Suffolk counties represent about 11 percent of college-age students statewide, second only to New York City. However, 84-percent of the city’s college-age student would qualify.

The governor unveiled the proposal last month during an appearance with Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who during the Democratic primary for president, called for free college nationwide. Sanders’ pitch was so popular among progressives and other Democrats that the eventual Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, jumped on board.

Under Cuomo’s proposal, households earning up to $125,000 would qualify for assistance. If approved by the state Legislature, the program would be phased in over three years, beginning this year, but with a lower ceiling of $100,000. The eligibility threshold would increase to $110,000 in 2018 and finally, $125,000 in 2019. Students who wish to take advantage of the program would be required to attend SUNY or CUNY institutions. The annual cost of SUNY tuition is $6,470. Cuomo’s plan would kick in after students exhaust funds from the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).

The eligibility numbers released by the governor’s office Tuesday would seem to lend credence to criticisms that the program would disproportionately affect Long Islanders.

“Having a universal statewide minimum threshold is blatantly unfair to Long Island families,” State Assemb. Dean Murray (R-East Patchogue) said in a statement last month after the proposal was introduced. Murray also criticized the idea as a “populist program” and asked for more specifics from the governor.

Cuomo has argued educational assistance is needed more than ever, citing rising costs of attending college, the importance of holding a degree, and crushing student loan debt.

“In New York, education was always the great equalizer, but today far too many young people have been deprived of the advanced degree they need to get ahead, compete in the global economy, and secure the jobs of tomorrow,” Governor Cuomo said Tuesday during an appearance in Buffalo.

“The Empire State is sending a message loud and clear that under the Excelsior Scholarship program students’ dreams of higher education will be realized no matter how much money is in their pocket or the neighborhood they come from,” he added. “We are at a time of transformation–and New York will be the first in the nation to enact free tuition for middle-class families and move our economy forward.”

The state estimates the program would cost $163 million per year once fully adopted. The state already spends about $1 billion annually on (TAP), which is capped at $5,165 per year.

Murray, in a statement to the Press on Tuesday, proposed the state further bolster the TAP program rather than get in the business of offering no-cost college.

“I have a number of concerns about the governor’s plan and strongly believe that instead of this gimmick of supposedly ‘free’ college, we could help more Long Island families and students by increasing the threshold for TAP eligibility,” he said, adding that the threshold has been stuck at $80,000 for 16 years and counting.

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Statewide eligibility numbers provided by New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s office.

(Featured photo credit: Kevin P. Coughlin/Office of Governor Andrew M. Cuomo)

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