ALBANY, N.Y. -- New York will be the first state to make tuition at public colleges and universities free for middle-class students under a state budget approved by lawmakers Sunday.
The plan crafted by Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo will apply to any New York student whose family has an annual income of $125,000 or less. To qualify the student would have to meet certain class load and grade point average restrictions, and room and board would not be covered.
“College is today what high school was 50 years ago,” Cuomo said on a radio interview Sunday on AM 970 in New York City. “If you’re a young person who wants success and a career, a college education is necessary.
The initiative is included in a $153 billion state budget proposal that passed the state Senate late Sunday after being endorsed by the Assembly a day earlier. The budget was due by April 1, but difficult negotiations delayed passage.
The tuition plan will be phased in over three years, with families making $100,000 or less annually eligible in the fall of 2017, with the threshold rising to $125,000 in 2019. Cuomo’s office says some 940,000 families will qualify. The initiative also includes $19 million for a new tuition award program for students at private colleges.
The governor’s office estimates that the program will cost the state $163 million.
When asked by CBS New York if he feared an exodus of students to free state schools, Robert Gilmore, who handles admissions at Manhattanville College, replied, “I really kind of am.”
Private educators are framing their concerns in terms of protecting choice.
“I do think we need to take a breath,” Dr. Joseph Nyre, president of Iona College, remarked to CBS New York. “I do think we need to hit the pause button and think hard about, how do we support choice?”
The governor’s office estimates the program would bring new students into higher education, and that fewer than 2 percent would be transfers from private institutions.
The budget approved Sunday also includes provisions allowing the ride-hailing apps Uber and Lyft to expand upstate and a juvenile justice reform known as “raise the age” that would raise the age of adult criminal responsibility from 16 to 18.
After years of failed attempts, Uber and Lyft finally would be able to move into upstate cities such as Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester and Albany. The ride-hailing apps have been limited to the New York City area but are expected to begin service upstate 90 days after the budget is approved.