New York Takes the Lead

Written by: Jessica Landgraf

Primary Source:  Green & Write, April 12, 2017


At the end of last week the New York state legislature passed a state budget, which will include tuition-free college at the state’s public colleges and universities. The plan is to phase in the program by first waiving tuition for students from families with incomes up to $100,000 during the initial year, up to $110,000 the second, and up to $125,000 during all subsequent years.

The plan Governor Cuomo successfully put forth draws from a nationwide plan that was recently proposed by Senator Bernie Sanders, and it is very similar to the plan democratic presidential candidate Hilary Clinton proposed after compromises with Sanders.


This step forward in New York has not come without resistance. Several objections to the plan have been raised. First, many people have pointed out that although the burden of tuition has been lifted, this plan does nothing to reduce the cost of room and board or books and supplies. While this is an important point, by removing the burden of tuition student loans could still be reduced by up to 50%. That is nothing to balk at. Second, and more contentious, is the law’s stipulation that in order for the tuition to be truly free students must work in New York state following and for the equivalent number of years that they received tuition. If this requirement is not met, what was once free tuition becomes a loan that the student will have to pay back. While a caveat such as this won’t impact everyone, it could be particularly devastating to those students who have to make the choice between a great job in another state and having to pay back tuition.

Follow the Leader

Because the plan is so similar to what has been proposed at the national level, it could end up being an important reference in future debates as either a shining example or dismal failure. But, in all honesty, even if everything goes to plan a single state success may have little to no impact on federal policy. In 2014 Tennessee successfully made community college in the state free for recent high school graduates (and it has recently made it free for all adults). This action inspired President Obama to outline a proposal to make two years of community college free nationwide. Although Obama’s proposal never came to fruition, it shows the power that state-initiated examples can have on the national agenda. Even more importantly, Tennessee’s move inspired other states to do the same. Oregon and Minnesota have put similar programs in place, and Kentucky has passed legislation to start doing so. An additional eleven states introduced legislation in 2016.

Looking Ahead

Only time will tell what this latest move will bring. New York will be an important state to watch as this plan moves forward over the next several years. But look out for similar initiatives to be taken up by other states as well.

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