New York Becomes First To Offer Free College Tuition


Hillary Clinton (left) and Gov. Andrew Cuomo (right) announce free tuition plan in Long Island City.
Photo courtesy of the Governor’s office


Gov. Andrew Cuomo and the state legislature made history last week following the passage of a scholarship program that would provide free tuition to the state’s public colleges and universities.

The Excelsior Scholarship, which is included in the Fiscal Year 2018 Budget Agreement, offers free tuition at two- and four-year public colleges for students from families making up to $125,000 per year.

“With this budget, New York has the nation’s first accessible college program,” Cuomo said. “It’s a different model.

Today, college is what high school was—it should always be an option, even if you can’t afford it. The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle class students and shows the difference that government can make. There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, ‘I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because my parents can’t afford it.’ With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

The presidents of Queens colleges praised the passage of the scholarship.

“This was a bold move on the part of the governor and state legislators who supported it,” said York College’s Marcia Keizs. “This is an idea whose time has come again to public higher education and we applaud the governor for his leadership in extending access to more New Yorkers seeking high-quality educational opportunities at public colleges and universities across the state.”

Queens College President Félix V. Matos Rodríguez said that the scholarship would help to prepare more New Yorkers for a highly competitive economy.

“Queens College students benefited from a free tuition policy until the 1976 New York City fiscal crisis,” he said.

“Since 1976, Queens College students and their families have paid tuition charges, albeit modest in comparison to other colleges and universities, subsidized in part by federal, state, city and private financial aid. The college looks forward to working with state officials to implement initiatives that further expand access to the best possible higher education.”

LaGuardia Community College President Dr. Gail O. Mellow, said that the scholarship was a “bold and visionary” idea and called its passage a “historic moment.”

“The Excelsior Scholarship recognizes that, in today’s world, it’s not enough to have a high school degree,” Mellow said. “People need a college degree to secure a well-paying job. For our students, many of whom are low-income and first generation college students, the Excelsior Scholarship offers much hope and motivation. Our students will be able to work less and study more. New York should be proud to be the first in the nation to secure free tuition.

But we will certainly not be the last. States across the nation are sure to follow Governor Cuomo’s approach as they see it act as a catalyst for not only getting students to attend and complete college, but also as an important lever to stimulate the state’s economy.”

Queensborough Community College President Diane B. Call, said that the scholarship would boost the state’s middle class.

“The Excelsior Scholarship program will provide a gateway to the middle class for New York’s most deserving students,” Call said. “New York will be stronger because of improved access to higher education.”

To qualify for the scholarship, students must be an undergraduate of any age enrolled at a SUNY or CUNY school whose family earns no more than $100,000 this year, $110,000 next year and up to $125,000 in 2019.

Under Excelsior, students would be required to attend full-time and must finish on time, depending on whether they are in a two- or four-year program. Additionally, students in the program would be required to work in New York State for at least two years after receiving a degree— otherwise, the full grant would retroactively become a loan.

Although Cuomo pushed to make undocumented students eligible for the scholarship, the provision was not included in the final budget— therefore, only students who are citizens, permanent residents or refugees are eligible for the program.

The Excelsior Scholarship is expected to cost $163 million in the first year before it’s fully phased in.

Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400 x144 or

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