New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has been making headlines this past week for unveiling a new plan that would help middle class students pay for college. A feature of all these headlines has been the words "free college" in big bold letters. While it makes for a great story, "free college" is not an accurate description of this plan at all.
The plan is known as the Excelsior Scholarship. That is exactly what it is, a big, generous scholarship, not universal education like what most other developed nations have. The plan is to help cover the cost of tuition for families making less than $125,000 a year. That covers almost 80 percent of families with college-aged children in the state.
While it certainly has plenty of merits, there are some flaws as well. Mainly, this is what is known as a "last dollar" plan. Which means instead of covering the cost of tuition from the start, this plan would be added on top of whatever scholarships and grants the student already has.
The problem with that is that the poorest students would get virtually nothing from this plan, because scholarships and grants often cover the whole tuition bill at the cheapest public schools in the state. If there is no leftover tuition costs, the student doesn't get anything from this plan.
Instead, this is directed more toward the students right in the middle, who's families make too much to qualify for many scholarships and grants, but not so wealthy that the costs still wouldn't be a burden. "It will help a slice of middle class students, but it's only a slice" said former SUNY chancellor D. Bruce Johnstone.
Another controversial part of this plan is a provision added on at the last minute, to appease Republican objections. This provision stipulates that for every year of aid a student receives under this plan, they must live and work in New York for an equal number of years after graduation, the logic being that if New York invests in you, you should remain and be an asset for the state.
Critics say this is unfair and will force students to sign away years of their lives. The bill's proponents have responded by stating that there are many exceptions to this provision, as well as the fact that most students in NY public schools stay in the state after graduation anyway.
But this provision is problematic, especially in the New York metro area, where a student might live in New York but find a job in New Jersey or Connecticut. If they take that job, or leave the state, the scholarship then becomes a loan that needs to be repaid.
This plan is certainly a step in the right direction. But let's not act like its the greatest thing since sliced bread, nor should we pretend that Cuomo is suddenly this progressive messiah, because he certainly is not. This plan is the same, half-hearted, watered down, "progressive" politics we've been getting from the Democrats for years (hence President Trump).
It's like asking for universal health care and getting the Affordable Care Act. Similar situation, it's a decent effort but never enough. Why can't we have universal healthcare and universal education? These are the norms in the rest of the developed world and we are, of course, one of the richest countries in world history. So thank you Governor Cuomo for passing a decent bill, but we are still waiting for some real progress.