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Tuition Nixed Next Fall Under State Budget

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Tuition will become free for University at Albany students whose households meet a specific income beginning in Fall 2017, Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Saturday.

Beginning with the next academic year, all CUNY and SUNY students whose families make less than $100,000 will become eligible for free tuition. Ideas for the plan were first announced on Jan. 3 during Cuomo’s first state of the state address at LaGuardia Community College in Queens. The plan was confirmed Saturday as part of the long dwelled upon state budget, which was supposed be passed on March 31.

“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. “The Excelsior Scholarship will make college accessible to thousands of working and middle-class students and shows the difference that government can make.”

Currently, SUNY tuition is $6,470, and many students must also bear additional costs such as student fees, and room and board. For University at Albany students, based on the 2016-2017 academic year, these additional costs can still amount to $15,735. At UAlbany, an estimated 80 percent of undergraduate students receive financial aid.

The budget agreement has made New York the first in the nation to enact a free tuition plan, according to Cuomo.

SUNY Student Assembly President and UAlbany graduate student, Marc Cohen also welcomed the budget agreement.

“This will work to alleviate the enormous burden of college tuition on hundreds of thousands of middle class families in our state and we’re thrilled for that,” Cohen said in a statement. “… This year was nothing short of a resounding and historic victory for students in the State University of New York.”

This is just the first phase of Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship. When he introduced the plan in January, the second stage included an expansion of the program in the fall of 2018 to include families who make $110,000 annually, before reaching $125,000 at the beginning of the fall 2019 semester.

“There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because parents can’t afford it,” Cuomo said. “With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

The Excelsior Scholarship has been made possible through the approval of $7.5 billion in the state budget for higher education, a $448 million, 6.3 percent, increase over last year, according to Cuomo’s office.

Besides for the victory of free tuition, Cohen promised students that SUNY SA will continue to develop “a comprehensive platform and a powerful grassroots campaign to make sure that public higher education is accessible and affordable to anyone who wishes to learn regardless of their race, sexual orientation, or their socio-economic status.”

The main caveat to the plan, however, is that students must continue to live and work in New York for up to four years after they graduate, otherwise they may be required to pay back the cost of tuition.

Additionally, the free tuition plan only applies to New York residents who are enrolled in at least 12 credits per term and who complete at least 30 credits an academic year. In order for students to qualify as state residents, they must have resided in New York for at least 12 continuous months prior to when they apply for free tuition.

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