Cuomo’s Free Tuition Program: Is A 2020 Presidential Campaign Born?

A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE

Gov. Andrew Cuomo appears to be the politician of the moment and political junkies are whispering about a future presidential run for him.

The passage of his Excelsior Scholarship program, which provides free tuition for middle class SUNY and CUNY students, is an idea straight out of the Bernie Sanders campaign playbook. Indeed, Sen. Sanders, of Vermont, was by the governor’s side in January when he announced that the plan would be part of this year’s budget.

The program will roll out for fall registration this year, starting with students whose families make up to $100,000 per year— and will eventually cap at those who make up to $125,000.

For those whose families, who make above the $125,000 cut-off, the state will increase funding for Tap and Pell grants. Conversely, their tuition will reportedly increase by $200 per year for the next three years. One does have to wonder, though— if you don’t qualify for free tuition, do you qualify for these grants?

But overall, this program will be far more beneficial than anything we have seen in New York’s public higher education system in a very long time. More of our young people will get to chase dreams they may not otherwise have been able to afford because they could not afford college.

Students will have to take a minimum of 30 credits per year to remain eligible— but if they do not have to work two and three jobs to pay tuition, it leaves more room for academics, so it is a win/win.

Gov. Cuomo inserted a last-minute caveat, though: after graduation you must remain in the state “for up to four years.” He is getting flack for that, but it is a wise decision on his part. This is a tax payer-funded program, so those who benefit have to also put some “skin in the game.”

It is not unreasonable to expect those who gain from this investment to spend some time living and working in the state that just gave them a tuition-free college degree. It is not an investment for the state if the graduates run off to use their qualifications elsewhere.

So, the governor can do a victory lap for the Excelsior Scholarship and Raise the Age, his other crucial budget item that would prevent juvenile offenders under age 18 from being charged as adults.

Under the current system, the age of adult accountability in the justice system is 16 years. That destroys, rather than rehabilitates, those young people’s lives and costs us more as taxpayers.

Cuomo is, no doubt, shoring up his progressive bona fides, bringing them more in line with the Sanders agenda, which caught fire with millennials during the presidential primaries last year.

It doesn’t matter, though. At the end of the day, ulterior motives sometimes lead to sound public policy and these two are good for New York. The state legislature and governor don’t always see eye to eye, but they came together to make this happen.

A governor, after all, is only as good as the legislative branch with which he works. New York is now leading the nation, thanks to these newly-passed budget items. But the proof is in the pudding. Let’s give it three years to see how it goes for New York and for Cuomo.

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