Sunday, May 20, 2018
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The New York Free College Bill

Source: Andrew Cuomo via Flickr

A few months ago, the New York Governor announced the Excelsior Scholarship plan, a bill eventually passed by the New York Legislature. The law aims at giving poor families access to college, and does so by making the state’s university system, State University of New York, and the City of New York’s university system, City University of New York, tuition free for low income families. Such a law is one of the first in the United States, making it a major experiment. Now that sign up for the scholarship has started, here are the advantages, disadvantages, and controversies about this law.

  • Critics of the bill point out that although law accounts for tuition, the cost of going to college encompasses many more factors, such as transportation and room costs. Rooms in cities like New York can easily add up to around twenty thousand dollars an year. Even though the law makes four-year programs free, that means that the room costs will still add up to eighty thousand dollars, and that is just room costs. You must also pay for transportation, textbooks, and many other fees. Proponents argue that if you are attending a university in NY, then you probably live in NYC, so you can public transportation. Moreover, since you live in NYC, you can live with your parents or guardians, so all of these costs are not incurred. Critics point out that if you are using this scholarship, you are poor, and lots of poor residents of NY live in rural areas. This means that a lot of people affected by this plan will indeed have to pay the “other” costs of college. Moreover, critics point out that the experience of living without your parents is a central part of the college experience. Living without your parents forces you to make responsible choices, and you are more likely to learn how to live responsibly when you are still under some authority (college) rather than with no authority (job). This experience also makes you learn a lot of things that help you become a better member of society and simply a better person. Since poor people will not get the opportunity to live without parents, the bill will increase the education gap as social education is still education, and the bill will hurt society as anything that makes parts of societies worse than possible hurts the whole society.
  • The law states that a family must have an income of under one hundred twenty five thousand dollars in order to qualify. Critics point out that this strict rule still leaves out many families who cannot pay for college. In a city like New York, one hundred thousand twenty five thousand dollars is not much. Families will still have to take a burden of student debt if they make say 130,000 dollars. This burden still may stop families from sending their children to college. Moreover, the bill does not account for the fact that families with multiple children will have an increased burden. If a family is sending two or three children to college at the same time, they are going to have to pay more expenses at once. The bill does not account for this.
  • Critics claim that this plan makes New York families more likely to go to the state’s public universities because of the free tuition, which can hurt the students and other universities. Private and public universities around the country may be hurt by this plan. They argue that the New York State and City Education Systems will have an essential monopoly on the region over private colleges. Moreover, by limiting competition, critics claim the New York State Law will compel students to go to public universities in New York because, even though they may be able to go a better university, their families may not want to take the financial burden. In these cases, instead of unleashing the potential of students, which is the point of free education, this plan does the exact opposite by limiting them. According to Niche, a school and college ranking website, only one of the multiple universities included in the plan is the top 100, that is SUNY Geneseo, which is 98th best public university in the US. Students will be restricted by their parents because of the scholarship to go the these universities, instead of going to a better university that they seem more fit for them, and a university where they can learn better and more, and also learn what they want. According to critics, a student should be allowed to choose university they go to and believe is best for them, and this may include a balance between cost and quality, but this a student’s right, and this choice is not the government’s to make.
  • The new state budget allows SUNY and CUNY, the two university systems included in the bill, to raise their tuition by two hundred dollars per year, according to CNN. This may result in rich students having to pay to help send the poor students to college. Rich people are already paying taxes in order to allow poor students to go to college, but supporters argue that out-of-state students will get some of this burden this way as well, and they should not care because it helps the economy. Opponents argue international students should not have to pay for poor students with whom they have no relationship with. Supporters argue that they have a relationship with them because they may be in their classes and may help them learn, and will help the economy since new inventions help the whole world. Opponents counter that the students may also have a negative impact on the students. Supporters argue that the positive possibilities outweigh the negative ones


  • Presidential Candidate and US Senator Bernie Sanders (I – VT), who has been a strong advocate for free college for all throughout his campaign, helped New York Governor Andrew Cuomo introduce and push this bill through legislation.


  • 4 year college is needed for success in the world now days.
  • College has been something that low income families have not been able to afford due to the high tuition costs. According to the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES), the average tuition cost for attending college for four years was over 25,000 dollars per year. Since low-income families cannot pay these costs, students must take lots of student debt, and this fear makes many poor students avoid going to college.
  • The average college graduate with a bachelor’s makes considerably higher. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average high school graduate makes $672 per week, whereas the average bachelor’s degree makes $1066 per week. College graduates make, on average, approximately 20,000 more dollars per year.
  • If low income families don’t go to college they will be restricted to taking low-paying jobs as high paying jobs mostly require college degrees and this will lead to the family staying poor, only worsening the wealth and education gap and causing many more problems as if the families cannot make enough money to self-sustain themselves, they will require government support for things like healthcare.
  • More educated population means that America’s future generation will be more able to adapt to an ever changing world. An educated workforce will be one that will help innovate and keep America on the front edge of technology, giving it an advantage over other nations. By opening doors to many low income students, New York argues that it is helping secure a prosperous future for its state and for America. It looks like New York has put a good case out for how this Excelsior Scholarship will help New York and America, but what all good things have a bad side to them. Here are some of the problems with the Excelsior Scholarship.

Controversial Issues:

The State of New York will have to pay for these programs. Proponents say the state is doing the right thing by helping shorten the education gap and making the rich pay their fair share in helping move the nation forward. Opponents say that the state and responsible people who are now “rich” should not have to pay for students whom did not study hard and now are having trouble getting other scholarships.

  • Also according to CNN, despite the Governor’s push to allow undocumented students to be eligible for this program, that part was not included. This is another controversial issue. Proponents claim that undocumented students are often poor students, and giving them free education is a big part of helping close the education gap between rich and poor families. Opponents say that these undocumented citizens are here violating the laws by simply being here and that they haven’t paying their taxes (even though most of them are eligible to not pay taxes due to their low income), and allowing undocumented students in New York to have free education will make more people come to New York as paying for college is a dilemma for every family.
  • Students are required to stay in New York for the same amount of years for which they receive funding under the Excelsior Scholarship, otherwise the scholarship will become a loan. There will be exceptions for people joining the military, but they will eventually be required to come back to New York, according to this CNN report. Supporters claim that this will help pay off the cost the state incurred while paying for college because of the additions to the economy these new college graduates will make. Opponents claim that the state isn’t really making college free, as in the end the students will pay the state back. Students will also be limited from a world of possibilities, literally. Supporters say that this will help start-ups in New York. Opponents say the State shouldn’t use free education in order to attract businesses and it is not ethical.

Effects on SUNY and CUNY:

  • The Excelsior Scholarship is predicted to add lots of students to the SUNY and CUNY systems, According to, more than seven hundred thousand students statewide are eligible for this scholarship. Of course not all eligible students will sign up, but considering that the university systems combined serve about 1.5 million people, this is still a substantial amount of students who may enroll in the universities. This will mean that the universities will have two choices, increase enrollment and facilities to keep up with the increased applications, or to not increase facilities to keep up with the new applications. How CUNY and SUNY will handle this increase, and the effects of their response, are also very controversial.
  • Let’s take into consideration the first scenario, that the university system can adapt to meet the new demand of students. This will require the university systems to hire more staff, from professors to janitors to administrators, and to make more facilities and possibly even more campuses. All of this will add jobs and help New York’s economy, but the people of New York State will have to help pay for all of these additions.
  • The university systems are still universities, not public high schools, despite the Governor saying that universities are like high schools, open to all. Basically, to be accepted into these university systems good academics are still required The plan may tackle the financial problem of paying for college, but poor families cannot afford to have students do lots of extra-curricular activities and take tutoring for standardized test or simply help for classes, something that uneducated, poor families are not able to offer. Poor students also often have to work part time jobs, which results in them not being able to pay attention to education as much as possible. This means that poor family students will not have the opportunity to lots of things that will help them get accepted into these universities in the first place. But since they will expand their facilities, more students will be able to get in. However, considering that some of the previous students who were rejected by the university are academically better than other poorer students who were unable to afford tutoring, they may be accepted. Since rich students may fill up these spots due to the array of opportunities they have, poor students may end up left out. Moreover, there is only a finite number of available professors, and the better professors will go to private universities or more prestigious universities since they have larger tuitions so they will pay more money. Even if we consider that the professors are being paid the same, due to the finite amount of professors, the university system will have to hire professors that are not as good as the old ones. This is because the university used to be able to have bargaining power as it got to pick which professors to hire, but since they are in the need of hiring so many more professors in such a short time frame, some of that bargaining power will be let go of resulting in a poorer overall quality. Poorer quality of education means that the students of NY will not be getting as good of an education as they could without the bill.
  • The second scenario is that the university systems do not fully adapt to the new amount of students. Simply, this will lead to lots of capable students being rejected by the university, making lots of poor students left with no option but to not go to college as the other colleges will be too expensive for them.
  • For students to qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship, they must maintain the GPA needed to graduate. Moreover they must complete at least thirty credits a year, but this may also be done over the summer. Supporters say that by having these requirements, they make the students work hard as the students realize how hard it is for their families to pay for college otherwise. Opponents say that this part of the measure is unfair because rich students do not have the same rules applicable on them. For example, they can have a GPA that is under the amount needed for a while, and then have it come back up later. They say that the state is controlling student’s lives too much by forcing them to make sure that they always have a high GPA and also puts stress on students.
  • The new Excelsior Scholarship is aimed at giving poor students access to education that will help them lift themselves out of the education gap and give themselves a good job. More work on the scholarship, to make it better at giving everyone free college, will help, but at this point, the Excelsior Scholarship is a step forward towards a day where college is readily accessible for all.
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