New York lawmakers approve free middle class college tuition

Getty ImagesGov. Andrew Cuomo

The Excelsior Scholarship is a first-in-the-nation plan that will let ny residents whose families makes up to $125,000 per year attend the state's public colleges and universities for free.

Starting this fall, undergraduate students who attend a State University of NY or City University of NY school will be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship if their families earn no more than $100,000 a year. That increases to $125,000 by the third year of the program.

Students must be enrolled full-time with at least 30 credits per year in order to qualify, and they are expected to cover housing costs.

While some states already have grant and scholarship programs, NY is the first to offer such a comprehensive program with no requirements other than residency and income-with no caps on how many residents can get free tuition.

The high cost of college tuition can plague a graduate years after they've received their degree, thanks to student loans.

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Andrew Cuomo, who announced the proposal in January alongside former Democratic presidential candidate Sen Bernie Sanders, hailed the deal as an historic opportunity for hundreds of thousands of families in the Empire State.

The plan crafted by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo will apply to any NY student whose family has an annual income of $125,000 or less.

"Adding insult to injury for middle-class households that do not meet the Excelsior Scholarship's many restrictions is the fact that SUNY and CUNY tuition will actually increase $200 per year", Skoufis said. Their families must earn no more than $100,000.

The two states on opposite coasts are known for pushing progressive policies into action so often that it seems like they are in competition to beat the other to be the "first" state to enact some major new policy first.

The new budget includes a $7.5 billion for higher education.

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A pedestrian walks past a City University of NY building in NY, U.S., April 11, 2017.

President Zvi Szafran says tuition is about $6,500 at all SUNY schools, but that could change. "Education is critically important but on the same token we need to continue what we need to do in the budget, we've got to prioritize and we need to make sure we know where we can go", said State Rep. Angelo Puppolo.

In addition to approving the Excelsior Scholarship program, the legislature also agreed to provide $8 million for open educational resources, such as e-books. The scholarship means students won't pay anything for tuition.

The scholarship will cost an estimated $163 million in the first year, according to Cuomo's office. Students living on campus at New York's public state universities will spend $18,120 in school related expenses beyond tuition.

"Why should New Yorkers pay for your college education and then you pick up and you move to California?" The program includes provisions to allow students to pause and restart their studies if they encounter hardships. Although tuition is waived, other collegiate fees (including room and board) are not.

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