Excelsior Scholarship program fails to address burden of student loans debt

Gov. Andrew Cuomo and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton sign the bill for the first free college tuition plan on April 12. Cuomo’s bill aims to help lower income families afford college, but doesn’t address the other excessive costs attending college entails. (Darren McGee/AP Photo)

Debt-free college seemed like an unattainable dream promised by Democratic presidential nominee Sen. Bernie Sanders during his campaign—and with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new approved New York State budget, it could stay a dream for many students.

Cuomo’s new tuition program is a less-than-perfect step toward helping future young Americans manage their student debt—if they can afford to pay the more expensive room and board costs.

The Excelsior Scholarship program determines students whose families earn less than $100,000 eligible for full tuition scholarships, according to a Thursday April 13 article in The Lamron. This applies as long as these students are enrolled full-time, take an average of 30 credits each year and live in New York State for a certain number of years after graduation.

Additionally, the cap for family income will grow to $110,000 in 2018 and to $125,000 in 2019, thus including more students in similar income brackets.

This program is not useless, as many high school students from lower class and lower-middle class communities will be relieved of at least some financial burden. 

The specific requirements to give students eligibility are not exceptionally difficult—even the requirement for post-graduate students to live in New York for the same number of years they received free tuition is inconvenient at worst, and reasonable at best. 

From an economic standpoint, it is in the state government’s best interest to make sure their educational investment in students reinvests back into New York itself.

The issue of room and board costs, however, is what worries many New York state students. Room and board costs at the average SUNY school can add up to $10,000-$15,000 per year, according to SUNY’s website.

While proactive students can apply for more scholarships and funding to pay for room and board costs—which are approximately twice as expensive as tuition itself—they will most likely fall back on student loans. 

A student at Geneseo who is required to live on campus freshman and sophomore year—who may already need financial help through the tuition program—could accrue more than $20,000 in student loan debt in just their first two years at college.

It isn’t useful to complain about the cost of college at this stage—it is unfortunately an accepted fact that most college students will suffer with debt for years or even decades after graduation. 

Cuomo’s tuition plan will help cut down those costs, if only by a few thousand dollars in total—which most would agree is better than nothing.

Even with this financial aid, however, college could still be an unattainable goal for students in the targeted income bracket—or even students in higher income brackets—who are not financially supported by their parents. 

The assumption that all parents of high school graduates and college hopefuls voluntarily offer financial aid for either tuition or room and board is unrealistic, and could leave struggling students without the financial help they need.

While the tuition program is a step in the right direction, any eligible students need to be completely aware of how the legislation affects them. 

The excitement about “free college” on social media and in the news is irresponsible, as those who do not read the fine print may not realize there are additional costs that are even more expensive than tuition.

To help the student debt crises, we would need an overhaul of our current higher public education system. In the meantime, we should support new initiatives to support students financially and to broaden the resources for those who still see higher education as an expensive dream.