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Opposing outside groups hit Cuomo’s free tuition plan

Opposing outside groups hit Cuomo’s free tuition plan

Public, private colleges see things differently
Opposing outside groups hit Cuomo’s free tuition plan
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo greets attendees of the Sustainable Development Capital Region Conference at Proctors on Nov. 29, 2016.
Photographer: MARC SCHULTZ

For some advocacy groups, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s free tuition at public colleges and universities doesn’t do enough for the state’s lowest-income student. For others, the proposal threatens the well-being of the state’s private colleges and universities.

This week, as budget negotiations heat up and the state Assembly plans to release its “one house” budget next week, a pair of outside groups released reports attacking the free-tuition proposal from multiple fronts.

The group representing private colleges and universities is projecting dire enrollment problems and budget cuts for those schools, while a progressive think tanks predicts the proposal would provide “no assistance” to students from families making $48,000 or less.

The Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York, which represents over 100 private colleges in the state, released a report that builds on a Georgetown study of the impact Hillary Clinton’s tuition-free public college plan would have had – that study found that enrollment would grow at public schools and decrease at non-top-tier private schools.

Overlaying New York schools, the commission’s analysis estimates public schools would see an enrollment increase between 9 percent and 22 percent and private colleges would shed enrollment of between 7 percent and 15 percent. That’s a $1.4 billion hit to the revenue of the state’s private colleges.

The commission’s president Mary Beth Labate, who has worked in the state budget office and as a senior SUNY official, has taken a strong stand against the proposal, arguing the SUNY system isn’t prepared for an influx of new students and that private colleges would be put in a competitive disadvantage. Just the discussion of the plan has already had a negative impact on private schools, Labate said.

“Enrollment is in jeopardy, capital projects have been put on hold and campuses are making plans for a series of layoffs in the coming months to close potential gaps,” she said.

In the Capital Region, private colleges could lose over 4,300 students and shed over 2,600 jobs, the study predicts.

Meanwhile, progressive advocates have argued the governor’s proposal focuses too much support on students from middle income families. The proposal makes public school tuition free for students from families making $150,000 or less and only covers tuition costs – not room and board, fees and the other costs that make up the vast majority of a student’s cost to attend college.

At SUNY two and four-year schools tuition represents roughly one-third of a student’s total costs, according to a study by the Education Trust of New York. Students at the lowest income levels get their tuition funded entirely by existing state and federal tuition assistance programs.  

“As a result, the proposal would provide no assistance to the average SUNY or CUNY student with household income up to at least $48,000,” who receive other state and federal tuition aid, according to the Education Trust report.

The greatest gains under the governor’s program, the Education Trust report argues, would be for students from families with income above $80,000, because they are not currently eligible for state tuition aid.

But, the study points out, those low-income students still leave college with students debt in excess of $25,000 per borrower from communities with average income of less than $50,000. Overall, New Yorkers owed more than $86 billion in student loan debt last year, and 45 percent of that total debt sat on the shoulders of students from communities with average income of less than $50,000.

The student loan delinquency rate is nearly three times higher in communities with average income of less than $30,000 than it is in communities with average income above $125,000, according to the study.

In conclusion, the Education Trust argues the governor and lawmakers should look to increase assistance of students who struggle to cover costs beyond tuition, focus on student success – not just access – and increase enrollment of low-income students at high-performing colleges. 

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