Thousands of Latino Students Could Now Be Eligible for Free College Tuition at CUNY & SUNY Schools

Lead Photo: Photo by Emre Baser / Moment
Photo by Emre Baser / Moment
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Between 1980 and 2014, the cost of college tuition increased nearly 260 percent. These soaring costs have saddled students with debt or, in some cases, made it impossible for them to pursue higher education. But now, the state of New York  will help students overcome this obstacle by providing free tuition for many attending public universities and community colleges. On Saturday, the Assembly approved the tuition-free plan – which Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced in January – as part of the 2017-2018 state budget. And the next day, the Senate passed it as well.

Titled the Excelsior Scholarship, the bill will cover the tuition costs for students attending a State University of New York (SUNY) or City University of New York (CUNY) school and whose families makes $100,000 or less. Next year, more families will become eligible when the income cap increases to $110,000. By 2019, those who make $125,000 will also receive free tuition, according to CNN.

When the program goes into effect, about 200,000 students will be eligible. This doesn’t include students who already have Pell Grants or New York Tuition Assistance grants. But, just like for other demographics, the scholarship will make a huge difference for the Latino student body. In the 2015-2016 school year, about 127,974 Latinos – making up nearly 20 percent of the undergraduate student population – attended CUNY and SUNY schools throughout the state.

Tuition currently costs $6,470 at four-year college and $4,350 at community colleges – but the scholarship won’t cover the cost of room and board. Though it will make a difference in the lives of many, some believe it doesn’t go far enough. It will still be difficult for students who don’t attend schools full time. The scholarship is only available to those who take 30 credits a year – a move that has drawn criticism. Cuomo, however, said the number of credits required is “flexible,” but not enough to cover part-time students. It also won’t cover undocumented students, who currently aren’t eligible for state financial aid.

Those who are able to take advantage of the Excelsior Scholarship must live and work in the state for four the same number of years they received tuition-free education. Though other cities and states – Tennessee, Oregon, and San Francisco, for example – have offered free tuition for community colleges, New York state is the first to include four-year institutions.

It also includes $19 million for assistance programs for students who attend private schools and fall under the income cap – something Republican lawmakers fought for.