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NY Set To Make State College Tuition Free For Middle Class

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College is about to become a lot cheaper for some students attending public universities in NY.

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.

Students who enroll for fall classes this year will start to take advantage, but SUNY schools across Central New York are still not sure how the "Excelsior Scholarship" will affect them.

Though the legislation eliminates tuition costs for many lower- and middle-income families, for students who exceed the income cap, tuition will increase $200 per year for the next five years at all state schools.

"College is today what high school was 50 years ago", Cuomo said on a radio interview Sunday on AM 970 in New York City.

- The Excelsior Scholarship is a last-dollar program, which means students must use their Pell grants and existing state Tuition Assistance funds to cover tuition first before Excelsior kicks in to cover the rest. The initiative won't cover room and board and students will have to meet residency, grade point and class load rules to participate.

After they graduate, students who receive the scholarship must live and work in NY for the same number of years they received funding. While New York families may not have the financial burden of worrying about college, the state is reportedly footing the $163 million bill.

According to the governor's statement, almost 75.7 percent of families with college-aged children across the state will qualify for tuition-free enrollment at a State University of NY or City University of NY school.

Due to criticism from Republicans that the initial proposal excluded students at private colleges, the final budget also includes an additional $19 million to assist those private school students whose families earn less than the income cap.

Tennessee, Oregon and Minnesota already offer free tuition at community colleges, and more than 80 initiatives are in the works nationwide to offer the same in other states and cities.

The New York State website on the plan says it was supported by Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

But New York will be the first state to make tuition free for some residents at four-year public colleges.

The tuition plan will be phased in over three years. Students would be required to take 30 credits a year to maintain the scholarship, which would exclude part-time students.

Is New York taking a page from Europe's education playbook?

New York Assemblyman Victor M. Pichardo, based in the Bronx, represents a district where almost one-third of families live below the poverty line.

"Our job is to encourage every person in this country to get all of the education they can, not to punish them for getting that education", said Sanders.

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