75,000 students apply for free tuition program in NY

The 75,000 applicants to New York's first-in-nation tuition-free college program are "finding out whether they will start the fall semester without a tuition bill to pay," writes the Associated Press.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo's Excelsior Scholarship program aims to eliminate tuition for many students attending public colleges in his state.

Starting this fall, the state will phase in the program with a family income cap of $100,000 and raise the income threshold to $125,000 over the next three years. Under Cuomo's plan, only students attending either two-year or four-year institutions within the City University of New York or the State University of New York (SUNY) systems will qualify. The Governor's office argues that the state's more than 940,000 students who qualify will be able to worry less about the college cost burden and can focus more on graduating.

What New York colleges need to know about the free tuition plan

The overwhelming number of applicants "demonstrates the critical need for the Excelsior Scholarship and the widespread enthusiasm of students across the state," says Cuomo. Although more than three times the estimated 23,000 students submitted an application, many would not qualify or accept an award, say state officials.

According to one Excelsior recipient, Natan Nassir of Binghampton University, starting this fall without a tuition bill to pay "feels absolutely terrific."

To participate in the tuition-free program, students are required to work or live in the state after graduation for the same number of years they received tuition benefits. Those who choose to leave New York will repay their Excelsior grant as a no-interest loan. While some deem this provision as too restrictive, the governor's office maintains that the "provision ensures the state benefits from the workforce it trains," writes the Associated Press.

Hunter Perez, who will use the scholarship at the University at Buffalo, says he "can see how some people are hesitant since in two or four years they don't know where they want to be... what job offers they're going to get."

While the state has set aside $87 million to award to the estimated 23,000 recipients, some criticize the program for not doing enough to help the lowest-income students. Cuomo's program only covers tuition. But according to the Associated Press, many of the neediest students, whose tuition is already covered by other aid, "will still struggle with room and board, books, and other expenses not included in the Excelsior Program" (AP/Times Union, 7/25).

Even when college is free, many students still don't enroll. Here's why.

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