Free tuition? Who wouldn’t want a free education? College students especially love the idea of “free stuff.” We will do anything to get that free t-shirt, drink or whatever commodity is offered, but a four-year degree? Absolutely free? I think all students could get on board with this idea; however, there is so much more to this concept than meets the eye.

Today, student loan debt seems unavoidable, unless you’re a genius or a student athlete. It’s a burden that is becoming more and more common in order to receive that sheet of expensive paper. Higher education is often unaffordable and expensive. It takes a lot blood, sweat and tears to make money, fill out countless loan and/or scholarship documents and ask your parents to help cover costs to go to school.

Nobody has it easy. According to Forbes Magazine, “There are more than 44 million borrowers with $1.3 trillion in student loan debt in the U.S. alone.”

In addition, the average graduate from the class of 2016, “has $37,172 in student loan debt.”

All of us, or our parents, are likely accruing debt for higher education, which is a high cost and burden. Maybe the state of New York is offering something new that will truly benefit those who can’t afford the expensive price tag behind our degrees.

New York is the first state in the nation to provide an accessible public college program, called the Excelsior Scholarship, which will allow individuals or families making up to $100,00 per year to qualify for tuition-free at CUNY and SUNY two and four-year colleges.

Approximately 80 percent of New York families will be eligible for this high education offer. Within the next three years, the income cap will be adjusted and raised depending on the gross income reported on the most recent tax returns.

On April 9, Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal of the Excelsior Scholarship passed by the New York State Legislative. The main goal behind this new program is to provide every child with an opportunity for higher education. Other ideas for this legislative measure were to alleviate the stress of student loans, create more opportunity for success and grow the number of educated citizens.

“I think it’s awesome and that more states need to follow in New York’s footsteps. This is something that we wanted to happen for a while now… cough, cough Bernie Sanders,” Tatiana Lopez, Colorado Mesa University student, said. “It’s something that should have been implemented a long time ago. I am glad that New York State of all places is leading it. Go progressiveness.”

“It’s hard because I know that this is when things come into play: should everyone be allowed to get something? If not everyone will appreciate and want it. This law will still show the people, who are willing to work hard for an education and give access to those who can’t afford higher education. With this hope, I am hoping that this will also not only help us make those steps with just higher education, but things like healthcare and those kind of laws that other countries have that hopefully the United States will be able to take part of as well.”

Kelsey Cantwell, CMU student said, “I think that’s phenomenal and that’s where we need to go as a country. I think there are enough inner city kids that deserve the same opportunities as suburban households. If we are going to help anyone in the world, then we need to raise our taxes fairly for the rich, the poor, for everyone it needs to be a fair thing. I think it is worth it because we need more educated people in this world so we don’t have another 2016 election.”

Joshua Abshear, CMU student said, “I can’t really speak for New York, but in my own personal experience I feel like we’ve already been granted access to fantastic education here in Colorado. Even if you’re from an underprivileged area, you can still try hard in the places that you’ve been. If you get good grades at the schools that you’re at or try hard in those areas, then you will be given opportunities. I know CMU here has scholarships and merit programs, I am on one of them.”

“If we end up giving this access to every student despite their intentions and what they wanted, then it reduces the competitive edge for students. It makes it no different than a high school diploma, in my mind, where everyone can get it. Its free and there’s no incentive to perform well.”

What are some important statistics and facts about this new higher education opportunity? Here is some more information courtesy of the New York government’s website.

– After the students graduate, they must live in New York the same number of years that they received this aid, and if they leave their scholarship will be converted into a loan.

– Students will still be able to receive the need-based federal Pell Grant or New York Tuition Assistance Grant, but they will need to use those first to pay for tuition and the rest will be covered by the Excelsior Scholarship.

– Students must maintain a GPA necessary to complete school and finish on time to graduate. Those students must enroll full-time with 30 credits per year, which are allowed to be completed during the summer.  If a student does not meet those requirements, the scholarship will taken away.

– The scholarship only covers tuition, rather than all costs of college. For example, fees, room and board, transportation, textbooks and meal plans are costs not covered by the scholarship.

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