The announcement of the state of New York introducing the Excelsior Scholarship program has been met with mixed emotions across the nation. While free tuition is an important step towards affordable education for prospective college students of the middle-class, the rules and regulations have been met with some concern for the effectiveness of the program.
One of the largest concerns is the requirement that those students whom qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship are to stay in the state of New York for as many years as they received free tuition after they graduate. The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, defended this requirement by saying, “Why should New Yorkers pay for your college education, and then you take off and you move to California? The concept of investing in you and your education is that you’re going to stay here and be an asset to the state. If you don’t stay here, then go to California and let them pay for your college education.”
Cuomo’s defense has validity in that New York is trying to invest in its middle-class students, but requiring them to stay in the state after graduation is an unrealistic expectation. The only thing predictable about life is that it is unpredictable, and assuming the students who qualify for free tuition will all be able to stay in the state of New York after graduation is a naïve assumption to make.
Another concern about the Excelsior Scholarship is that it does not benefit enough of the prospective students in New York. This program requires that applicants proceed to college from high school without any interruptions, which disqualifies any applicants who become a part-time students or graduate from high school late.
David W. Chen, a New York Times investigative reporter, explains why this is a concern by commenting that, “If the program were applying to those who are now in school, not that many students — or certainly a minority of students — would qualify for the scholarships because most of them are working part time or taking longer than four years to graduate.”
This requirement will have a massive impact on which applicants will be able to apply for the scholarship, with more than 90 percent of students at New York’s state community colleges not capable of meeting it. This requirement essentially contradicts the original purpose of the program, given that the majority of prospective applicants do not take the traditional route to college. There can be no expectation to help the middle-class students if they are punished for working to survive while they earn an education.
These concerns about the scholarship program do not completely dismiss the potential benefits it could provide for middle-class families. Prospective students whose families make under $100,000 per year still have the opportunity to relieve some of the strain of helping their children receive a college education. However, it should be clear that this is just the start of the movement towards affordable education.
Like anything as impactful as free tuition, it will take time to fine-tune this incredible opportunity for middle-class students to receive a college education. Applying this program to the state of New York will not be enough, as the rest of the United States needs to step up and invest in the education of the future generations.
Knowledge is power and the more educated this nation becomes the more powerful we can be. This country must unite to decide that it is of vital importance to invest in higher education. Though it may be flawed, the Excelsior Scholarship is a step toward opening up the opportunity for everyone to be able to afford a college education.