New York could become largest state to offer free college tuition

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On Friday, lawmakers in New York struck a budget deal that includes a provision to make public higher education tuition-free.

After the deal, the state budget now includes the Excelsior Scholarship, an idea proposed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in January which covers tuition for any New Yorker accepted into a community college or public four-year university, so long as their family makes under $125,000 annually.

Under the program, any tuition that is not covered by federal Pell Grants and New York’s Tuition Assistance Program will be covered, meaning it is a “last dollar” program.

“Today, college is what high school was — it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it,” Cuomo said in a statement Saturday. “With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

The program will go into effect in phases over the next three years, starting in the fall of this year for families making up to $100,000. In 2018, the threshold will be raised to $110,000, then in 2019, it will hit $125,000.

In order to qualify, participants must remain in New York for two years after graduation if they attend a community college, and they must stay for four years if they attend a public university. Meanwhile, private universities will see their state tuition assistance funding go up.