Area public college leaders back free tuition plan


Area public college presidents, including the Mohawk Valley Community College head, were among the State University of New York campus leaders to endorse the governor’s free tuition plan for the state’s public colleges and universities on Monday.

“The governor’s proposal highlights the critical importance of an educated citizenry to the future of New York state,” said Mohawk Valley Community College President Randall J. VanWagoner. “While the details of this proposal will be shaped through the budget process, this initial signal of new investment in public higher education in New York is very encouraging.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal would cover whatever tuition costs remain after federal and state financial aid are factored in for students meeting the $125,000 family income threshold.

“Governor Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship Program supports the mission of Herkimer County Community College, which is, in part, to provide our learners with high quality, accessible educational opportunities and services,” said President Cathleen C. McColgin. “We applaud the governor’s commitment to expand access to higher education, reduce student loan debt, and enhance student success.”

The comments of VanWagoner and McColgin were included in a news release form the governors office to build support for the plan, which has drawn some criticism.

Cuomo’s proposal to give middle-class students free tuition at state colleges has touched off a broader debate about the cost of an education — and several alternative proposals. The Democratic governor’s $163 million proposal has been criticized for not addressing rising room and board costs or student debt, or doing more to help those who struggle the most to pay for an education. Senate Democrats on Monday offered their own plan that make tuition free for students from families earning up to $150,000.

The new proposal would also give lower income students more help with room and board and $10 million in increased aid for students at private colleges. “Half-measures will not help struggling New York families,” said Sen. Mike Gianaris, D-Queens. “Now is the time for real results, not unnecessary compromises that lessen the assistance we should be providing hard-working New Yorkers.”

In-state tuition at State University of New York four-year campuses is just under $6,500 a year, about a third of the typical four-year student’s total public college bill in New York. Room and board are the bigger-ticket items at nearly $13,000 a year, and student fees and books tack on another $3,000.

Tuition varies at community college even though are they are part of SUNY. MVCC’s tuition is $4,084.

Assembly Republicans have offered their own alternative, which would raise eligibility for the state’s tuition assistance program and offer every recipient another $500, while increasing tax breaks for student debt payments. Republican Assemblyman Ron Castorina said Cuomo’s plan “categorically ignores sound fiscal policy, while misleading the public.”

“We simply cannot afford to increase taxes and spending as we continue to be one of the most taxed states in the country,” said the Staten Island lawmaker.

Meanwhile, two reports released last week urged changes to Cuomo’s proposal for free tuition.

One report, from the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities, predicted enrollment losses of 11 percent at private colleges and universities across the state under Cuomo’s plan. The lobby group also calculated those enrollment declines would put in jeopardy nearly 45,000 jobs statewide.

“There’s no such thing as free, free always comes with a cost, and we believe the cost will be very profound” to private colleges, said Mary Beth Labate, commission president .

The other report, from the Education Trust-New York, concluded the governor’s proposal would not provide any additional aid for low-income students who depend on higher education to improve their economic outlook.

Jim Malatras, Cuomo’s former state operations director and one of the architects of his free college tuition plan, on Monday said the program would likely see tweaks, including the eligibility levels and maybe how it would impact the state’s large private college sector, which isn’t included at this point.

Some type of plan is expected to be included in the state budget now being negotiated by Cuomo and state lawmakers. The state’s fiscal year begins April 1.


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