Excelsior program does not deliver on funding promises

With the approval of the Excelsior Scholarship, New York became the first state to offer the option to get a college education for free. Gov. Andrew Cuomo passed the state budget and allocated $7.5 billion to provide two- and four-year college educations to students who attend public universities.

This verdict is an extension of the Excelsior Scholarship, which originally did not include a plan for full-tuition grants. The scholarship, however, will only cover the remaining costs after federal grants and financial aid are applied. The scholarship does not cover cost of other necessities, such as textbooks and transportation.

The scholarship is meant to cover the cost of tuition for students whose families make less than $125,000 per year. The salary restriction will increase to $125,000 incrementally starting in Fall 2017. During the first year of participation, families who earn an annual salary of less than $100,000 will be eligible for the scholarship. Starting in 2019, the salary restriction will cap at $125,000 to receive the scholarship.

While this scholarship seems like it extends a long-awaited privilege to struggling students, it will be difficult for the majority of students who attend public institutions to take advantage of it. The two public university systems in New York State—SUNY and CUNY—have a majority student population that works part- or full-time jobs and maintains part-time academic schedules.

Since this scholarship can only be applied to students who take at least 15 credits per academic semester, such students would automatically be disqualified from receiving it. More than 90 percent of students who attend public community colleges would not qualify, The New York Times reports. Additionally, many students do not graduate in the allotted four years that are encouraged by the scholarship.

Although the amount of money allocated to higher education is a record high—it topped last year’s budget allocation by $448 million, a 6.3 percent increase—the press release for the budget does not specify where the money comes from. It is presumed that the money will come from taxpayer money, but it is difficult to imagine that citizens will not be angered over paying additional taxes.

In the coming years, citizens will be mandated to pay extra taxes to cover the cost for the increase in pay to $15 per hour for minimum wage by 2021. Education, while it is a priority, will create steep tax rises as well. While it is a great initiative to offer the opportunity to receive a free college education, these factors must be accounted for and substantiated.