Free College Tuition Affects FSSA Students

New York State is the first to offer free college tuition with the Excelsior Scholarship and Enhanced Tuition Award. This past April, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo passed a bill that will provide  full-time students from New York State free tuition at a public two year or four year colleges. The Enhanced Tuition Award targets private schools and offers up to $6,000. This legislation was enacted just a few weeks before National College Decision Day, affecting many students and what college they had planned to attend.

The topic of tuition free college had been rigorously discussed during the 2016 presidential election by Senator Bernie Sanders and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Sanders preached, “Every American, regardless of income, must have the right to a higher education. In a competitive global economy, with rapid changes in technology, we must make public colleges and universities tuition-free. I congratulate Governor Cuomo and New York State for helping to lead the nation in that direction.”

Although the idea of free college is nice, the requirements to apply and maintain the Excelsior Scholarship are more complicated. According to the Higher Education Services Corporation, students are qualified if they are an undergraduate attending a SUNY or CUNY and have a household income of $100,000 or less. Students are still responsible for room, board, and other fees.

 “My decision was definitely influenced by the cheaper tuition of a CUNY. I think that the Excelsior Scholarship is a good step in the right direction for making colleges tuition free and it’s beneficial in making colleges more accessible to more people,” said Katarina Jovic, an FSSA vocal major attending Hunter College this fall.

In addition to the initial requirements, students must take 15 credits per semester or 30 per school year. Some students may find it difficult to maintain their scholarship.

“If I had applied for the Enhanced Tuition Award, it would’ve scared me. Taking on 15 credits per semester sounds unrealistic and doesn’t make sense. You’d basically have no life and that’s not what college should be about,” said FSSA senior Kaylani Brown, an art major attending the Maryland Institute of College of Art this fall.

According to The New York Times, low-income students often interrupt their studies to work. Going to school part time in order to afford a living and education is an option many students rely on. Simultaneously taking 15 credits per semester and working could affect a student’s performance in school. If a student fails to meet the requirements, the award will convert into a loan, undermining the idea of free college.

Amanda Cheng, an FSSA art major attending Cooper Union this fall, was conflicted when she heard about the Excelsior Scholarship.

“City College would’ve been an option, but with all of the risks that come with the Excelsior Scholarship, I decided to go with Cooper,” she said.

Some students, like Katarina also questioned the program’s standards and its consequences.

“I think that even though setting a standard can have a positive outcome, it’s not fair that a certain amount of credits and a minimum GPA are required because learning abilities vary from person to person, so some people may have a harder time meeting these requirements. Taking away their scholarship could potentially make it harder for them to get an adequate education,” Katarina added.

– by Theresa Vu 17