Image Credits: Mary Altaffer/AP

New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo recently proposed every young conservative’s worst nightmare earlier this spring: “free” college. In April, Cuomo and the New York state legislature instituted the “Excelsior scholarship,” a college tuition program that offers free tuition to students whose parents make less than $100,000 per year.

Cuomo is not the first politician to promise this. Former presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders used reduced tuition and tuition-free college as a basis of their presidential campaigns in the 2016 election.

There is no doubt that the cost of college has increased drastically for our generation. In fact, data collected by the U.S. News Labor Department shows that the cost of a college education increased by over 79 percent between August 2003 and August 2013. While outrageous expenses of a higher level education continue to skyrocket, students wonder how to make college more affordable. The truth is, though, free college is not the answer.

In New York State, Cuomo’s Excelsior scholarship has several requirements for eligibility. To be eligible, students must be full time and enrolled in 30 credits per year. Additionally, students are required to maintain a high enough GPA necessary for the successful completion of their coursework, which varies by program. After graduation, students are then required to remain in New York State for the same number of years in which they received the award. The student does not need to be employed during this period, however he or she cannot be employed in another state.

According to Cuomo, nearly 80 percent or more of families with college-aged children across New York State will qualify for tuition-free college at State University of New York and City University of New York schools.

That doesn’t seem so bad right? Wrong.

In the three months since its inception, the Excelsior scholarship has already affected the cost of tuition for residents of New York State who do not qualify for the scholarship.  The scholarship has resulted in a three percent increase at university centers across New York.

By 2019, Cuomo’s plan will extend to students whose parents make up to $125,000 per year.

According to Harvard Economist Eric Maskin, this spending is wasteful because many students and families can afford to pay a considerable amount toward their higher education.

Many, including Sanders, argue that the United States should implement college programs similar to those in Germany, Denmark and Finland. There, the college tuition is free of charge to students. What Sanders fails to mention is that as a result, taxes in those countries are almost 24 percent higher, as reported by the Tax Policy Center.  

A college education has proven to be an investment for millennials and without a doubt a costly one. Tamara Hiler, an education policy advisor at Third Way recognizes that addressing the rising costs of a college education is a valuable concern, but it becomes the role of the university. It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that he or she gets a return on that investment of time and money.

This point is a noble one to make considering the gap in unemployment for those with college degrees versus those without. Data from a U.S. News Report shows that the unemployment rate of college students in 2016 was 2.6 percent compared to a 5.4 percent rate for those who only earned a high school diploma.

Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship takes the prestige out of the word “scholarship.” It will continue to jeopardize the affordability of the State University of New York system in the future. As the income requirement for eligibility increases over the next two years, you can expect to see significant tax increases in the middle class, student fees skyrocket, drop in graduation rates, and value of degrees plummet.

In the age of entitlement programs, higher level education is a privilege. The costly investment is one that will only benefit you in the future. In the words of Benjamin Franklin, “an investment in knowledge pays the best interest.”

Jennie G
CONTRIBUTOR