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EDITORIAL: Free tuition is still a bad idea

EDITORIAL: Free tuition is still a bad idea

Program will be costly to taxpayers, restrictive, ineffective as economic development tool
EDITORIAL: Free tuition is still a bad idea
The exterior of Van Curler Elston Hall at SUNY Schenectady County Community College is shown.
Photographer: Marc Schultz

Never accuse state lawmakers of giving up, especially when it comes to proposing bad legislation designed to make them look good politically.

Such is the case with the latest incarnation of a bill  (A8616/S1725A) to offer free SUNY tuition to New York residents in exchange for graduates agreeing to stay in New York for five years.

It seems like a wonderful idea.

You relieve young adults of the financial anchor of student loans that prevents them from buying houses and cars and getting married.

Parents wouldn’t get stuck with helping their offspring pay off those loans or with having them move back home until they can get on their feet.

And the rest of the taxpayers in New York who won’t receive any direct benefits from this wonderful gift will instead be blessed with an influx of young, bright minds who contribute to the state’s economy instead of taking their state-funded knowledge and skill elsewhere.

But just as when they proposed this dog of an idea last year and the year before and the year before that, sponsors still haven’t addressed its major flaws.

Most obviously, providing a college education is expensive. And if New York students aren’t paying tuition, then someone will have to make up the difference to support the colleges — mostly taxpayers and those paying-students ineligible or unwilling to accept the terms.

Second, the bill only includes free tuition, not other college expenses. How will poor students benefit if they can’t afford the room and board, books, fees and other hidden costs? A lot of kids will still be living at home after this.

This whole thing about forcing people to stay in New York until their mid-to-late 20s deprives them of opportunity to seek better jobs elsewhere, or to move should their significant other get a better job in another state. If students don’t stick around the whole five years after graduation, they will forfeit the free tuition and be forced to pay it back through a student loan — which is what this legislation was designed to avoid in the first place.

And as for that big boost to the state’s economy, the legislation once again makes no requirement for what students must major in. That means there’s no guarantee these graduates will help fill the state’s need for more school teachers or in fields requiring math and science, nor does it help alleviate critical employment shortages in vocational professions like construction and long-haul trucking.

This recycled legislation will be an expensive new burden on taxpayers that places untenable restrictions on graduates and is unlikely to boost the state economy.

Lawmakers persist in proposing it, but it never passes.

Let’s keep it that way.

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