New York

Cuomo Announces ‘First-of-Its-Kind’ Plan to Offer Free College Tuition for Low- and Middle-Income New Yorkers

Anyone with a family income under $125,000 would qualify under the plan, which Bernie Sanders called "revolutionary"

What to Know

  • The plan would apply to anyone accepted to any two- or four-year city or state university
  • Anyone with a family income under $125,000 would qualify
  • Of the 7.2M households in New York, most had household incomes that would fall under the threshold, 2015 American Community Survey found

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has proposed a plan to offer free college tuition to New Yorkers whose families make less than $125,000 a year. 

Hailing the plan as the first of its kind in the nation, Cuomo said Tuesday the "Excelsior Scholarship" would apply to anyone accepted to any two- or four-year city or state university. Nearly a million families would qualify. 

"College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success ... and this society should say we're going to pay for college because you need college to be successful," Cuomo said. "Other countries have already done it. It's time this country catches up."

Legislators would have to approve the plan, which Cuomo wants to start this coming fall. The plan would be rolled out over three years, and when fully implemented in 2019, is expected to cost about $163 million, according to The New York Times, which first reported the plan.

It was not clear how Cuomo intended to pay for it, aside from tuition assistance programs the state already offers. 

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who appeared alongside Cuomo as he announced the plan, called the program "revolutionary." During the senator's unsuccessful run for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, Sanders pushed for free tuition at all U.S. public colleges.

Programs are already in place to offer tuition breaks to top students who commit to studying certainly fields, but the new initiative would be much broader. The governor called the plan the most aggressive higher education program ever proposed. 

"This is the most important issue this state and nation must address: higher education and its affordability," Cuomo said. "If we can help you do well, we will. Because that's the American Dream." 

New York has the nation's largest public university system, with 440,000 students spread among 64 campuses across the state.

The 2015 American Community Survey found that of the 7.2 million households in New York state, the vast majority had household incomes that would fall under the threshold for Cuomo's proposal.

Contact Us