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Bernie Sanders push during the Presidential primaries brought its first "man on third base." Andrew Cuomo, Governor of New York, who two years ago barely won his primary against Zephyr Teachout, in large part because he had angered teachers across the state, needed a high profile, progressive, pro-education action to keep his future alive, especially since it is rumored he has his eyes set on higher office.

Free tuition for the middle class was a win win. The median family income in NYS is $73,854 (2015 is latest data), so guaranteeing free tuition to families making less than $125,000 will be a boon to the vast majority of middle class New York students.


But as they say, the devil is in the details.


Known as the Excelsior Scholarship, it will pick up the remaining tuition after federal aid and TAP has been used for NYS residents. This will be more helpful to middle class rather than to low income families. It is called a "last dollar" program. The cost of tuition will be covered, but only after all other grants and scholarships are deducted.


Rather than covering the full cost of tuition to begin with, this means that low-income students will not be able to use their other scholarship and grant money to cover living expenses. Since those other costs dwarf tuition, low income students will still need to spend time working, and will perhaps still be denied the possibility of going full time.


This year it is for families earning $100,000 or less and that will rise to $125,000 by 2019.

It can be for any 2 year community college or 4 year CUNY or SUNY but students must be full-time, not part-time.


It only covers tuition. Students are still stuck with room and board, books, some fees. So if you don't live in commuting distance after your first two years - oh well.


Living expenses on campus are about double tuition and fees. At Stony Brook, the cheapest dorm is $4041 per semester and the cheapest meal plan (mandatory in most dorms, 10 meals) is $2151 per semester - for a total of $12,382 per year - plus such things as books and the other meals not on the meal plan. 


One known negative with the Excelsior Scholarship is that students getting free tuition must work in NY for up to 4 years after graduation from a 4 year school, or 2 years from a community college. In other words, for each year of the loan you use, you are required to work in New York for that number of years. Otherwise, your scholarship will be converted to a loan. There is an exception for students who attend an out-of-state graduate school and hardship cases.

Given that it is NYS taxpayer money paying for it, it's not hard to understand why the Legislature added this. Fortunately, the stats work in the favor of the majority of students because NYC especially has such a wide range of jobs.


Both SUNY and CUNY overwhelmingly enroll NYS residents and 80+% (higher in CUNY and most community colleges) stay in-state after graduation. So the number of students whose free tuition may turn into a loan is 20% or less. 


Another confusing unknown is that this says students must take 30 credits per year, but it also says the credits can be done during summer and winter semesters. Does that conflict with TAP? Or is it saying low income students will have it harder than middle class students?

NY already offers free tuition to low income students through TAP and federal grants. TAP however, requires a student to take 12 credits per semester in their major. Minors are no longer included.


As a consequence, students often double major in order to take other classes without jeopardizing their TAP, which also means they take as many credits as they can each semester. This creates a burden on schools like Stony Brook that have been rapidly increasing admissions without building new classrooms. Courses are given at 7am, during campus lifetime, late Friday afternoon, whenever and wherever the University can find time and space.

So if students must still take 12 credits per semester in their major to qualify for TAP, and room and board are not included, most resident students at Stony Brook, which is the vast majority of the Asian American student population, will still have to cram everything into two semesters.


An optimal program - a home run rather than a runner on third - especially for struggling students - would be to waive tuition upfront and allow grant aid to cover books, fees, and living expenses.


So while the Cuomo plan is a first step, hopefully it is not the final step.




Stony Brook's current tuition and fees - $6,017.50 of which $3235. is tuition and the rest is all fees $1165.25 (broad based fees) and $1517.75(mandatory health insurance), with a $99.50 difference not explained on the two links)


Broad Based Fees:


Meal Plan:








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