Free Public Higher Education Set For Fall Rollout

A Personal Perspective
BY MARCIA MOXAM COMRIE

Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s dream program of free public higher education has been fully approved and set to roll out in time for fall registration.

The Excelsior Scholarship will provide free tuition for SUNY and CUNY students whose families make up to $100,000 per year and will eventually cap at those who make up to $125,000.

That is a great thing for qualifying families. College—even public college—is expensive, so God bless ‘em. The state is keeping TAP in place and the federal government will continue to provide PELL grants to those who qualify.

But again, there will be many who don’t.

These programs don’t seem to help students whose families make just under the cut-off income. So, what if a family’s income is $130,000 before taxes and they have two or three kids in college? Those families still don’t get free or reduced tuition.

It sticks in the craw that this tax-funded program will not benefit other middle class families who barely miss the cut-off income. Apparently, there will also be an annual grant of $6,000 per year for those attending private institutions and whose family income also falls within the Excelsior guidelines.

But regardless of how anyone may feel about being left out of the Excelsior program, it will ultimately be a good thing for New York. Currently, there are too many people in our state who have not been able to live up to their academic and professional potential because they cannot afford college. Now, the barriers have been removed.

New York—through its two public education systems—will now lead the charge on free public higher education and that is literally a great gift. You have to invest in your human capital and we owe it to our young people to help them find their path to the American dream.

However, it remains to be seen if free public higher education is sustainable in the long run. It used to be free or nearly free before—but New York City’s fiscal crisis of the 1970s led to a rethinking of the concept. So, here we are revisiting free tuition again.

There are those who say that public education is a civil rights issue and, indeed, it is—at least, for the pre-K to 12th grade set. But for higher education—not so much. However, Cuomo and the state legislature’s initiative to make public higher education more available to those struggling to make ends meet is to be applauded.

There are times when we complain that our tax dollars are being wasted. This is not one of those times. This is a win for the university systems, a win for students and families and, ultimately, a win for the state. When we invest in our young people, we invest in our city, state and nation.

Education is priceless in its value. For some, it will now be costless in its application. You can’t beat that.

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