Top Cuomo Aide Defends Free Tuition Program Requirements

Apr 20, 2017

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s budget director is among those defending the state’s new free public college tuition program for some middle class students, after a week of criticism from the left and the right of the political spectrum.

Conservatives say Governor Cuomo was just trying to win a headline for a potential 2020 presidential campaign by convicting the legislature to enact a plan to offer free tuition to middle class students attending public colleges and universities. Meanwhile liberals say the state should also do more to help it’s poorest college students graduate, and attend better high schools so that they are more prepared for college in the first place.

But Cuomo and his top officials are saying, essentially - stop the sniping and give the program a chance. Governor Cuomo’s budget director, Robert Mujica, points out that it’s a pioneering program and that perhaps there will be growing pains and details to be worked out.

“This is the first time in the nation that anyone has had a program like this before,” Mujica said. “So you don’t know what’s going to happen.”

Mujica says yes, there are requirements to receiving the free tuition.

Students must agree to live in the state one year before attending college and for four years after they graduate, if they receive the free tuition for each year of their undergrad studies.

He says graduates who choose to live in another state instead, would have to pay the money back, interest free, in a payment plan that is yet to be set up by the state’s Higher Education Services Corporation.

And he says there will be hardship waivers granted, if a graduate can’t find a job or needs to move for family reasons.

The state already has residency requirements for some math and science teaching scholarships as well as medical school and nursing programs.

According to SUNY, 83 percent of graduates remain in the state already after graduation anyway.

Mujica says the free tuition, which is technically known as the Excelsior program, is not available until after all other forms of aid, including the state’s existing Tuition Assistance Program, and scholarships are exhausted.

“It’s a last dollar scholarship,” Mujica said.

Room and board, as well as other fees and books are not covered. Those costs can be twice the cost of tuition, ​which is $6,470 at SUNY and $6,330 at CUNY.