Updated: Oct 5, 2018
Recently, there has been an uptick in interest in policies making public colleges tuition free. There has always been some push for this idea from those fed up with the ever-growing problem that is student loan debt. The main factor that led to this recent surge of support was the presidential campaign of Independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. Making public colleges’ tuition free was one of the main talking points he carried throughout his campaign. His campaign ended at the primaries, but it seems that his message resonated with the governor of New York, who has announced a budget deal that will make public colleges’ in his state tuition free for students, whose family makes less than $125,000 by the year 2019.
The new budget allocates funds for a new scholarship program. This program is called “excelsior,” a latin word, which is also the New York state motto, commonly translated as “ever upward.” This new program is being implemented incrementally, covering the tuition of students, whose family makes less than $100,000 this fall, $110,000 fall 2018, and $125,000 by fall 2019. The official estimates claim that this program will help approximately 200,000 students pay for college at a cost of $163M during its first year after implementation. It is worth noting that the Excelsior Scholarship program only covers a student’s tuition. Fees, room and board, and living expenses are still the responsibility of the student. Since New York already has some of the lowest in state tuition rates of any state, if a student lives on campus it is very likely that this program will cover less than half of the total cost. In addition to the family income requirement, a student who takes advantage of this scholarship is also required to have lived in New York for at least a year, and to complete at least 30 credit hours per school year, a stipulation which is described as “flexible.”
While New York is the first state to make all public college tuition free, others have begun the process of doing the same or something similar. The states of Oregon and Tennessee, as well as the city of San Francisco, have all made community colleges tuition free for their residents, regardless of their income. Many nations around the world, such as Finland, Germany, Iceland, and Luxembourg, also provide free college tuition for their residents. With college becoming as necessary and ubiquitous as high school was not long ago, it seems like nations feel it is necessary to subsidize the education of their students to give them a chance in an increasingly global world. The extent to which students take advantage of these opportunities, their economic effect, and their effect on student debt are yet to be seen, and will likely determine whether the rest of the states adopt similar policies. One effect that few will argue is that a more educated population has benefits for everyone. I suppose that it is somewhat disappointing, however, to think that most of us got here possibly within a few years of not being required to pay tuition at all.