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New York to Offer Free Tuition at Four-Year Public Universities

Ashlee Kieler

Hundreds of thousands of New York residents mulling the idea of going to college at a public university could soon enroll for free, as the state's lawmakers passed a budget over the weekend that included a program that would allow students from middle- and low-income families to attend college for free.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo confirmed Monday that lawmakers approved the Excelsior Scholarship program that would initially provide tuition-free college at the state's public colleges and universities to families making up to $100,000 a year.

The program received official approval Sunday evening when the New York Senate passed the 2018 Budget [PDF], a day after the state's Assembly backed the plan.

Under the program, which was proposed by Gov. Cuomo in 2017, an estimated 940,000 middle-class families and individuals would qualify to attend college tuition-free at all CUNY and SUNY two- and four-year colleges in the State.

The program was created to close the "last mile" of tuition costs for students by covering the price remaining after the state's Tuition Assistance Program and federal grant funding are deducted.

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The Excelsior Scholarship program will be phased in over three years, with New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annual eligible starting this fall. In 2018, the threshold increases to $110,000 annually, and $125,000 annually in 2019.

To be eligible for the program, students must be enrolled full-time and average 30 credits each year, including summer semesters, and maintain a passing grade point average.

Additionally, the program requires students to live and work in New York for the same number of years after graduating that they received the scholarship. For example, if a student participated in the program for four years, they must live and work in the state for four years. Students must still foot the bill for room and board.

In all, the plan is estimated to cost about $163 million each year once fully implemented. According to the Governor's office, tuition at SUNY and CUNY four-year schools cost roughly $6,400 and $4,300 at community colleges.

In addition to approving the Excelsior Scholarship program, the legislature also agreed to provide $8 million for open educational resources, such as e-books.

While New York is the first state to begin offering free tuition at four-year public colleges and Universities, two states offer similar plans for two-year schools.

In 2014, Tennessee became the first state to offer a program that provides all Tennessee high school graduates the opportunity to receive two years of free tuition to community colleges or technical schools in the state.

The following year Oregon implemented a similar program. Dubbed the Oregon Promise, the plan provides tuition waivers to recent high school graduates who earned at least a 2.5 grade point average and are Oregon residents for at least 12 months, and apply to community college no more than six months after graduation. 



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