April 8 (UPI) — New York is poised to become the first state in the nation to provide free tuition to public colleges and universities, after a deal struck as part of larger budget negotiations announced Friday night.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, who announced the proposal in January alongside former Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, hailed the deal as an historic opportunity for hundreds of thousands of families in the Empire State.
Under terms of the deal, the program would be phased in over three years. This year, students whose families earn less than $100,000 per year would be eligible for free college tuition. That cap would be raised to $125,000 once the program is fully implemented.
The deal includes both the State Universities of New York, or SUNY, and the City Universities of New York program, known as CUNY. It does not cover the cost of incidentals like textbooks or room and board.
Though the legislation eliminates tuition costs for many lower- and middle-income families, for students who exceed the income cap, tuition will increase $200 per year for the next five years at all state schools.
Under terms of the deal, students who accept free tuition to SUNY or CUNY schools would be required to live and work in New York for the same number of years as they accepted the benefit, or the free tuition would be converted into a student loan. The loan would be temporarily put on hold if a student leaves the state to attend graduate school in another state or moves out of state to complete an undergraduate degree. The legislation also carves out an exception for a student’s “extreme hardship.”
The in-state work requirement was largely seen as a concession to Republicans who control the state Senate, who balked at the price tag, an estimated $163 million by 2019.
The free tuition plan, which became a centerpiece of Sanders’ liberal presidential campaign, is the linchpin of Cuomo’s 2017 social agenda. His office estimated more than 900,000 New York families would be eligible for the program once it is fully implemented, though outside analyses put the figure far lower.
The proposal also includes a new $3,000-per-year state grant for students who choose to attend a private college or university, provided the school agrees to match that amount and freeze a student’s tuition for the duration of the grant. Private colleges lobbied heavily against the legislation, arguing it puts them at an extreme disadvantage in the competitive world of college admissions.
Final passage by lawmakers could come as soon as Sunday.