Being a student is expensive beyond tuition — if you can even afford to be full-time.
In April 2017, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo inspired soaring headlines with the stroke of a pen. By signing his Excelsior Scholarship program into law, New York became the first in the nation to cover four years of college tuition for low- and middle-income students. The program, which targets students from families that earn under $125,000 per year, was quickly hailed as the nation’s largest “free tuition” experiment. “In this economy, you need a college education if you’re going to compete,” Cuomo said of the law.
Cuomo had reasons to be enthusiastic. College access has become an urgent issue for policy experts concerned about economic equity. Look no further than the student loan crisis, in which millions of Americans have been saddled with a total of $1.6 trillion in debt; the diverging gap between the rich and poor; or the US’s middling upward mobility scores, which show American children are very likely to remain in the same income bracket as their parents. With 35 percent of new jobs demanding a college degree at minimum, access to higher education has become a proxy for economic inequality writ large.
The Excelsior Scholarship applies to the state’s two public college systems, where in-state tuition alone costs around $7,000 per year at these schools, a figure that usually doubles when factoring in student fees, housing, and other expenses. Excelsior doesn’t pay tuition costs directly — rather, it covers any tuition costs left over after other financial aid programs. In exchange for funding, Excelsior students commit to enrolling full-time in college and working in New York after graduation for a certain number of years. Although Excelsior is designed to be more widely available than a traditional academic scholarship, Excelsior students are expected to maintain at least a 2.0 GPA in order to receive funding.
Other states are following. New Mexico is weighing a program that would fund two- and four-year public college for full-time students regardless of their economic background. California has its own bill that would fund full-time students through the Cal State university system.
But three years later, as Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders are touting student loan forgiveness and universal college access on the presidential campaign trail, New York’s Excelsior experiment has underwhelmed on some expectations, leading critics to dismiss its claims of “free college” as symbolic. Its questionable success underscores that when it comes to college costs for low- and middle-income students, tuition is only one small part of the problem.
For the full article click here: https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/2020/2/5/21113890/new-york-free-college-excelsior-tuition
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