A cheering crowd at LaGuardia Community College welcomed Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders to their Long Island City campus Tuesday where Cuomo announced his plan to give free college tuition to eligible New York students. The Excelsior Scholarship program would offer free tuition at SUNY and CUNY schools for students from nearly a million families making less than $125,000 a year.
“A college education is not a luxury — it is an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility, and with these first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarships, we’re providing the opportunity for New Yorkers to succeed, no matter what zip code they come from and without the anchor of student debt weighing them down,” Cuomo said. “New York is making a major investment in our greatest asset — our people — and supporting the dreams and ambitions of those who want a better life and are willing to work hard for it.”
Sanders, an independent, called the program “revolutionary” and urged state legislators to approve the plan and make it a model for the rest of the nation. Sanders pushed for free tuition nationwide during his unsuccessful bid for the presidentcy.
“If the United States is to succeed in a highly competitive global economy, we need the best educated workforce in the world,” Sanders said. “We must make public colleges and universities tuition free for the middle and working families of our country.”
In 2015, the average student loan debt in New York was $29,320. If approved, the Excelsior Scholarship program will be a supplement to the Tuition Assistance Program, which provides nearly $1 billion in grants students statewide, and federal aid.
“College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success,” Cuomo said. “And this society should say we’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful. Other countries have done it. It’s time this country catches up.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr