THE (Auburn, N.Y.) Citizen
Free tuition for some New York state residents is being greeted with cheers by some and boos by others.
And the fact that this major shift in state policy is not being universally accepted as a positive move is evidence that it - like many other aspects of the state budget - was voted into law without proper contemplation and debate of its merits.
The headline-grabbing initiative to offer free state college tuition to students from families making less than $125,000 a year was included in Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget proposal released in January. Private schools, including Wells College in Aurora, immediately raised the alarm over the potential for devastating financial impacts should students begin to pass over their schools for public universities. Others argued that taxpayers shouldn’t have to shoulder the burden of paying for a select group of people to go to college for free. Cuomo predicted that the program would amount to about $163 million a year, but many called that estimate far too low.
But for all the concerns, the proposal remained intact for months as the Legislature got closer to - and then missed the deadline for - passing the state budget. What happened in the final hours before the budget package was voted on was that some significant amendments were agreed to behind closed doors.
One - being criticized as a “bait and switch” tactic - requires students accepting the free tuition to continue living in New York state after graduation for as many years as they took advantage of the funding.
Another last-minute addition is a tuition assistance program offering $3,000 grants for students at private colleges, whose graduates would also have to pay the money back if they move out of the state before their agreements expire.
The changes all have merit. But so does the notion that they should have been thoroughly discussed and debated before being voted into law. As it went, the public wasn’t aware of the details until it was too late to turn back - an inexcusable way to pass such a sweeping and controversial policy.