Why New York’s free college plan isn’t perfect


Lawmakers in New York state approved an enormous $7.5 billion scholarship, one that would — as some news organizations have heralded it — make it possible for the low-to-middle-class to attend two-year and four-year colleges for free.

However, there are some roadblocks. The Excelsior Scholarship is limited to families making less than $100,000 in 2017. In the coming years, it is expected that the cap will be raised; the real rub is that income caps are not going to be adjusted for household size.

Students in New York expecting a plan similar to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ (D-VA) $75 billion plan, making all public universities completely free and covered by taxing the rich, will be disappointed by these preconditions. However, despite some reservations, Sanders has supported New York’s decision. He declared it as “revolutionary” in an interview with the New Republic’s Graham Vyse.

Another crucial aspect of this plan is it will only cover tuition and, as students know, college costs do not end there. Housing costs, meal plans, overload schedules, parking passes and the costs of textbooks could still be deterrents to the most financially disadvantaged of those hoping to attend college.

New York’s Republicans have attacked the bill, stating the plan’s focus on financing students attending only public universities distracts students from engaging in the decision-making process of choosing a university. Vivian Yee of the New York Times speculated that this stems from the inherent conservative favoring of private schools.

While some progressives think the bill did not go far enough, there are still those who believe this is overstepping the realm of feasibility and wish that the scholarship was a “last dollar” proposal, as Gov. Gina Raimondo (D-Rhode Island) had structured in her proposal from January. 

Raimondo’s plan would only kick in after all other options, such as Pell Grants and school-specific scholarships, were exhausted, resulting in a lower price for many students, while not being nearly as inclusive. 

As a student at a state university, it gives me hope to see that we are steadily progressing toward a realistic plan, in which those who desire an education can achieve it. However, it is also my belief that we should take a step back and observe what there is left to do. Without a practical framing of New York’s accomplishment, we become liable to overlook the core issues, leaving the future with more questions than answers.


Benjamin Hummel is an English and speech & communications major at SDSU and can be reached at [email protected].