Governor Andrew Cuomo just announced a plan to make public colleges tuition-free for students in New York State whose families earn under $125,000 per year. To be known as the Excelsior Scholarship, the plan would cover whatever portion of a student’s tuition is not paid for by existing public resources, such as the federal Pell Grant or the New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP).
There is strong public support among New Yorkers for such a plan. In recently conducted polling of New York City residents by the Community Service Society (CSS), college affordability is cited as a top concern, across income levels. Low-, moderate-, and higher-income New Yorkers agree that making college more affordable has the most potential for helping low-income individuals move up the economic ladder. And across incomes, New Yorkers support using state and local tax revenues to cover the cost of public college tuition.
New Yorkers cite the cost of tuition as the greatest barrier to succeeding in college.
To New Yorkers across incomes, the cost of college tuition is, by far, the biggest barrier to entering college, far above academic preparation or other work/family responsibilities. New Yorkers also see tuition as the greatest reason that students fail to complete degrees, significantly ahead of barriers such as other costs, low academic preparation, and a lack of counseling or information.
Which of the following do you think is the biggest barrier to students entering college?
*CSS Unheard Third 2015
New Yorkers also agree on the challenges of college affordability, and the barrier it represents to upward mobility for low income individuals.
When asked in 2015 about what stood in their way of getting ahead, only an increase in the minimum wage—an issue that was subsequently addressed by the governor—ranked above college affordability for low-income New Yorkers. Higher income individuals agreed: 39 percent of them called for making college more affordable, which ranked higher than an increase in the minimum wage. After tackling the minimum wage last year, Gov. Cuomo appears to be addressing the next greatest issue of concern for New Yorkers struggling to get ahead.
What do you think would most help your ability to get ahead economically?
*CSS Unheard Third 2015
Across income levels and ethnic groups, New Yorkers support using state and local taxes to cover the cost of tuition to public colleges.
This year, CSS asked New Yorkers about using their tax dollars to cover two years of tuition for high school graduates to attend public colleges. Nearly two-thirds of respondents (65 percent) supported the idea, with most (58 percent) strongly in favor. Results were the same across incomes and racial and ethnic subgroups.
Do you favor or oppose using state and local tax revenues to cover the cost of two years of college tuition for New York City high school or equivalency graduates to attend any public college in New York, or are you not sure? And is that strongly or not so strongly?
There is clear support from a majority of New Yorkers for Gov. Cuomo’s plan. Any proposal will need to be careful to ensure that it provides the appropriate incentives to high achievement, and does not come at the cost of general support to New York’s public colleges and universities, which have seen continuous budget reductions. We also know that the costs of college often go far beyond tuition, and more assistance is necessary for students who bear the full financial burden of attending college. But we are happy to see the governor’s commitment to making college a greater reality for New Yorkers, and look forward to the opportunity to work with him on the details of his plan.