New York has enacted a statewide tuition-free college program for students whose families make less than $125,000 per year.
"Today, college is what high school was -- it should always be an option even if you can’t afford it," Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York said in a statement. "With the passage of the FY 2018 State Budget, New York is now home to the nation's first accessible college program -- The Excelsior Scholarship."
The governor continued: "Under this groundbreaking program, more than 940,000 middle-class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year will qualify to attend college tuition-free at all [City University of New York] and [State University of New York] two- and four-year colleges in New York State. The new program begins in the fall of 2017 and will be phased in over three years. In New York State, every child will have the opportunity that education provides."
The tuition-free college program was approved after lawmakers approved the state's $153 billion budget.
The program will be phased in over two years. Beginning in fall 2017, free tuition will be available to students from families making less than $100,000 per year. In 2018, the annual family income maximum will be raised to $110,000, followed by $125,000 in 2019, reports USA Today.
"This is the difference that government can make," Cuomo told reporters. "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 mommy and daddy can’t afford it."
New York has the largest public college system in the country with 443,000 students. Tuition is currently $6,470 per year.
One criticism of the plan is that it allows the State University of New York Board of Trustees the ability to increase tuition up to $200 annually for three years on those whose families earn more than the annual income limit for free tuition.
"It’s shocking to me how the governor can, out of one side of his mouth, propose free tuition for a small group of select students while out of the other side of his mouth, advocate for tuition hikes on a dramatically larger set of students," said Democratic Assemblyman James Skoufis.
Cuomo spokesman Rich Azzopardi fired back at Skoufis.
"If Skoufis thinks 80 percent of all New York families is too few students, he should go back to school himself and take a remedial math course," Azzopardi said.