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Behold: Free college

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The approval of the state budget In Albany ushered in a major milestone: free tuition for students at CUNY and the state university system. The ripple effect will be felt in the years to come as graduates enter the work force unburdened by heavy debt.

Some economists contend the U.S. economy has been held back because the student loan crisis prevented young adults from following the route that their parents had taken: leave home, get married, buy a home. These decisions fuel consumer spending, which accounts for about 70 percent of the nation’s economic growth.

The promise of free tuition will bring thousands more students to college campuses in the state and give New York a better educated work force. Many CUNY students now struggle to pay the annual $6,330 tuition fee for two-year colleges even after financial aid grants reduce the bottom line. A modest transit fare hike can mean one less class a semester and extend the time to graduate beyond two years.

Under Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tuition plan, CUNY and SUNY students from families earning less than $100,000 a year must attend classes full time, maintain a certain average and complete their course work in two years for an associate’s degree and four years for a bachelor’s degree. In exchange for the free pass on tuition, CUNY grads must work in New York state for two years and SUNY grads for four years. Otherwise, their free tuition will become student loans.

Despite an outcry about the payback requirement, most students who attend both public and private colleges in New York are residents of the state and end up working here. New York is setting a standard for the entire country with its tuition plan and the students who benefit owe the state as well as the taxpayers a return on their investment.

At CUNY, where tuition was free until 1976, LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City and Queens College in Flushing are ranked among the best public colleges in the country.

A year’s tuition is $6,470 at SUNY, where Binghamton and Stony Brook stand out as academic power houses, in contrast with $38,000 for private colleges.

To make this bold tuition move work, the state must beef up its guidance programs to help young adults choose the most suitable college track. Without strong direction, some students will fall by the wayside.

Elitism in education has no place in this city or the state. The governor has given everyone a shot at what was considered an impossible dream in many low- and middle-income families. And the legislators stood tall.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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