Recently, New York became the first state to offer free tuition to its students, but it’s not as simple as it seems. According to National Public Radio (NPR), the Excelsior Scholarship was approved over the weekend “as part of the state budget.” This scholarship will cover full-time students in the State University of New York system, which totals 64 campuses and 1.3 million students.
As great as it seems, there’s a catch. Students have to apply for, and use, other money like federal Pell Grants, before applying to the scholarship, NPR reported. That means that low-income students have less to gain from the scholarship than do students from families “who are too wealthy to qualify for those grants,” according to NPR. For example, the New York Times reported that this scholarship would cut the cost of a degree from a four-year State University of New York college from about $83,000 to about $57,000 for a family that makes $100,000 per year.
The Excelsior covers the cost for any two or four year programs, but you must finish the program on time and as planned. Another catch is that the scholarship requires people to work in the state of New York for at least two years after they receive their associate’s degree or four years post-bachelor’s. NPR states that if students leave the state after graduating, the full grant will become a loan that must be paid off.
The New York Times also reported that 90 percent of community college students would not qualify for free tuition based on the fact that they must often interrupt their studies to work. They reported that even at [New York’s] four-year colleges, 60 percent of students would be ineligible for the scholarship.
Despite the fine line agreements, New York is still the first state ever to offer free tuition for eligible students at two or four-year colleges.
New York-based Keene State College (KSC) students and alumni have mixed feelings on the new scholarship their state has implemented. KSC junior David Villalobos resides in Yonkers, New York. He said it’s cool to be from the first state to have free tuition. “I think this will benefit many families, especially around my town,” he said. “I feel that New York will set an example for other states [to offer free tuition], as this will most likely be the best idea and decision that was made.”
Had this scholarship been offered years ago, Villalobos said his decision [of what college to attend] would have been harder than it was. “Who doesn’t love free tuition?” he said. After a long thought, Villalobos said he probably would have come to KSC regardless of the new scholarship. “Of the schools I looked at in New York, I was not as interested as I was for KSC. When I did visits, Keene was the best one in my opinion,” he said. Having the opportunity to play soccer at KSC was a big deal to Villalobos. He said soccer “made it easier” for him to decide to attend KSC. “Once I was accepted [at KSC], I couldn’t wait to move in and start this college experience,” Villalobos said.
KSC sophomore Delaney Schafer is from upstate New York. In contrast to Villalobos, she said she believes college costs “are ridiculously high,” but is not sure that completely eliminating tuition is the way to lower it.
“Someone is going to have to pay for it in the long run, and [the scholarship] has those who attend colleges [in New York] stay and work in New York,” she said. “So ultimately, you will be the one that has to pay back your free tuition.”
Schafer also agreed that had this bill been implemented years ago, she would still attend KSC. “I think colleges may not have as much to offer since they are not bringing in nearly as much money as they were before the bill,” she said.
KSC alumnus Matthew Pereira graduated in 2016. He is from Yorktown, New York, and is now the Marketing Coordinator for Essie at L’Oréal USA.
Pereira said he is “truly proud” of his state for offering free tuition. “One of the reasons my father never attended college was because of the cost. At the bare minimum, you need a college education to get a job and even then you still have a hard time finding work,” he said. This decision to make tuition free has proved to Pereira “that New York is taking the steps toward economic equality for all,” he said. In contrast to Villalobos and Schafer, Pereira said he probably would have attended Syracuse had free tuition been offered years ago. “They have an amazing communications program, so I would have loved to have gone there,” he said.
“At the end of the day,” Pereira said, “It’s still about being accepted into the school. People neglect that factor a lot with this issue.” He said if anything, he believes this bill “creates more competition” because people are going to be more willing to apply to schools. “I think that’s where the real fear in this law lies more than anything else,” he said.
MacKenzie Clarke can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org