Cuomo’s “Tuition-Free” Plan—With A Few Strings Attached

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Beginning this fall, Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship will provide students at New York’s public universities the dream tuition rate—zero dollars.

The plan, first announced by Cuomo in January, will allow students from families earning less than $100,000 to attend CUNY and SUNY colleges for free and the threshold increases to $125,000 by 2019.

At Queensborough Community College on April 12, 2017, Cuomo touted the “first-in-the-nation plan” as an “outrageously ambitious idea, but an irrefutably smart idea.”

“We had free public high school for everyone. And today, my friends, college is what high school was 70 years ago. It is not a luxury. It is a necessity,” he said.

Mission accomplished, right? Not quite.

Only 5,000 CUNY students, at most, will qualify for the plan as well as one-fifth of SUNY students. For the rest of the student body, they must will be left out of the “irrefutably smart idea” created a governor irrefutably thinking about the 2020 presidential election.

Furthermore, the threshold is puzzling to say at least. At CUNY, nearly 40 percent of students come from families earning $20,000 or less, according to the Office of Institutional Research. This figure is five times smaller than this year’s threshold and over six times smaller than 2019’s threshold.

Would these students be prioritized under the plan? No. Low-income students are lumped into an ambiguous “middle class” that treats a family earning $95,000 per year as the same as one earning $30,000 a year.

Yet what happens to tuition? As the Campaign to Make CUNY Free Again notes, both SUNY and CUNY Board of Trustees are free to raise tuition. For those not eligible for Cuomo’s plan, this will place a higher burden on them.

Notably, undocumented students are not counted as students that could get free tuition. For a governor propelling himself as a progressive counter to Donald Trump and his ilk, it would be a wise idea to include such a group. Yet they were not.

Perhaps the most telling is how state officials admitted this could become a lottery system. Language within the bill authorizing this would create a lottery system if demand exceeds supply. This would, once again, families with different incomes the same. It does not make sense.

There is more to discuss, but the gist of all of these criticisms show the fault of Cuomo’s plan. It does not help students from poor families, does not stop tuition hikes, and does not provide a free education.

Instead, it is a mess of a plan for two institutions that have suffered major cuts over the past few decades and even under the current Democratic administration.

Does CUNY and SUNY receive major funding with an influx of students? Are adjuncts paid more than nearly $24,000 per year? Will we finally have problems with CUNY and SUNY fixed? According this plan, no.

Governor Cuomo first announced his plan in January besides Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a progressive that calls himself a socialist and inspired many around the country with his left-wing policies. In April, he was next to Hillary Clinton, a bland, elite politician whose politics is viewed as pragmatic and centrist. Whether it was by coincidence or not, this helped symbolized what the Excelsior Scholarship is—empty.

Brandon Jordan graduated from Queens College in 2016 and a former Editor-in-Chief of The Knight News. He is currently a freelance journalist and an editorial intern at The Nation Institute.


Op-Eds are unedited and do not necessarily refelect the views of The Knight News editorial staff. All questions, comments, and submissions of op-eds can be sent to info@

Brandon Jordan

Brandon is a senior majoring in Political Science and Economics with a minor in Business And Liberal Arts. He covers labor and activism at CUNY. He also likes to cook, bake, run and make puns, sometimes not in that order. You can follow him on Twitter @BrandonJ_R and email him at brandon[at]

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