New York may become the largest state to offer free public college this year


A $163 billion budget agreement could result in New York becoming the largest state to offer free tuition at all public colleges and universities, the Washington Post reported Saturday. 

The idea, first proposed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, would cover the full cost of in-state tuition at public community colleges or universities for New Yorkers with a combined family income of less than $125,000 annually. That covers the vast majority of the state, which has a median household income of just under $61,000.

"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. "With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides."

The scholarship program will begin covering state residents with an annual household income of $100,000 or less in the fall of 2017; the limit will increase to $110,000 in 2018 and to $125,000 in 2019. The state will step in to cover tuition costs for full-time students who take at least 30 credits a year and for whom federal Pell Grants and New York's Tuition Assistance Program have been maximized, according to the Washington Post. It does not cover additional expenses like textbooks or room and board.

As the Chronicle of Higher Education noted, some advocates have called the plan "the nation's first free-tuition program for middle-class families." In 2014, Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam proposed and quickly implemented a plan to make community college free for recent high-school graduates throughout the state, though a later federal partnership proposed by former President Barack Obama failed. Other states, including Oregon, have their own free community college programs.

According to the Associated Press, the New York state Senate will be voting on the budget Sunday evening, though a final vote is not expected until after midnight.

Cuomo's plan closely mirrors Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign proposal to provide full funding for public college and university students nationwide. When Cuomo first proposed the plan in January, Sanders was at his side, calling the idea "revolutionary."