OP/ED: Free Tuition with a Catch


Just about four years ago, I was looking a senior in high school picking different colleges to go to.

Some were more expensive than others, but I still managed to pick one that I was able to afford throughout the next four years of my life.

Loans may be an unfortunate reality, but it’s a part of life. Car payments. Mortgage payments.There is no way of avoiding them.

All throughout my college experience, myself along with many other college students wished that the college tuition wasn’t so expensive, or for it to be free for that matter. So that way we can save more money and not have to be in debt for years to come.

Well, that day has arrived in New York State, but with a pretty big catch.

On April 12, 2017 Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed a law that will provide free tuition to students at public colleges and universities in New York State.

The Excelsior Scholarship ensures New Yorkers free tuition at the state’s public colleges if their families earn less than $125,000 annually. This will be phased in over the next three years, beginning this fall for families that make up $100,000.

This is great news for those who reach the quota, but this “scholarship” neglects the students that happen to be part time, and have a low-income since the program is based on the students parents income, rather than their own individual income.

When I first heard that New York State would have free tuition, I was pretty upset. But then I kept on reading about this whole “free tuition.”

I also found out that none of this applies to private colleges. Even though the tuition part would be free, you would still have to pay for the dorming, meal plans and other expenses if you live on campus. Yes, you are saving money by not paying tuition, but you still have to find a way to pay for everything else.

So if you thought you were going to escape loans, think again.

If you are a part time student who works and can’t take up to 30 credits in the year (two full semesters), you’re basically not applicable to this program.

So does this mean that that full time students will get a “free ride” and those part time, pay in full?

Yes, and no.

There are a few requirements in order for the scholarship program to come full circle for those who are eligible.

In order for the grants, you received throughout the years, to stay grants, you must stay in New York State the same amount of time you went to school for.

Which restricts those who get job offers out of the state. If you receive this scholarship program, you can’t leave without the grants being turned into loans.

So if you get hired in let’s say Monroe, Ohio, or Los Angeles, or that lovely Hawaii, you can’t accept the position. Unless you want to pay all those new loans that are about to come your way on top of those loans that you have from your resident and meal plans.

This is the drawback to the program. The fact that the student can’t leave if they get a better paying job somewhere else, and have to be stuck in this location with a lower paying job, isn’t ideal. At the moment it might not hurt having a lower paying job. People can manage, but over time it will start to be a problem.

There is always a catch.

If someone is going to school for a longer period of time, that means they have to stay here longer, which benefits no one really. Unless you plan on staying in New York State. How do plans you made four years ago work out? Just as you planned it, right?

If the student can only be part time, that means they can’t really take part in the Excelsior Scholarship program, which may not be realistic to students from low income backgrounds that need to work.

If you attend a SUNY or CUNY, you are eligible to receive this scholarship, but if you go to a private school, you are excluded. I understand that not all the schools can have this program, but it would be nice to have the option of this free tuition. 

I’m also wondered, where are all these people going to park? Will these campuses become overwhelmed with a growth of enrollment? 

Me on the other hand, am happy that I don’t have to deal with this mess of a program. I was upset at first that this law was signed when I’m on my last few weeks of college, but once I read further into the details, I was relieved this was passed now. Not earlier.

I don’t have to worry about not leaving and having to find a job here in the state, I can leave and just pay off my loans that I have in peace.

If I’m being honest I’d probably have better luck finding a job outside of New York State, and make more money, rather than stay here and make little to no money.

All in all, this free tuition program is either a win or a lose situation. It’s either that you have to follow the rules, or end up paying back loans in what originally you received in a grant.

Safe to say if you want to either go to school or get a job somewhere else, you’re out of luck. Remember kids, nothing in life is free. There is always a catch.