Students walking on the Niagara University campus in Lewiston. (Buffalo News file photo)

Two reports released Thursday urged changes to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's proposal for free tuition at New York State's public colleges and universities – although for widely varied reasons.

One report, from the Commission on Independent Colleges & Universities, predicted enrollment losses of 11 percent at private colleges and universities across the state under Cuomo's plan. The lobby group also calculated those enrollment declines would put in jeopardy nearly 45,000 jobs statewide.

The other report, from the Education Trust-New York, concluded the governor's proposal would not provide any additional aid for low-income students who depend on higher education to improve their economic outlook.

The Education Trust-New York crunched numbers showing low-income students would still have to rely heavily on student loans to finance higher education costs beyond tuition at New York's public colleges and universities.

[PDF: To 'Excelsior,' And Beyond]

"Low-income students and, disproportionately, students of color would effectively be shut out," the Education Trust-New York report concluded.

Cuomo administration officials said the governor's plan does not take dollars away from low-income students and will allow even more low-income families to take advantage of state and federal financial aid that's available for higher education.

CICU's report estimated enrollment losses at more than 100 private colleges and universities statewide would total 54,079 students  and result in $224 million in lost tax revenues due to job losses at the institutions.

In Western New York, private institution enrollment could drop by 2,749 students, resulting in 1,377 job losses and $3.8 million in lost tax revenue.

[PDF: Report - Effects and Consequences of the Excelsior Scholarship Program]

Some campuses already are experiencing negative effects from the discussion of free tuition, said Mary Beth Labate, CICU president. "Words move markets. 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," Labate said.

The Cuomo administration disputed CICU's numbers, saying their projections show the proposed Excelsior Scholarship program would attract less than two percent of the 520,000 students currently enrolled in private colleges.

Besides, officials said, New York already provides $400 million to private colleges, including $300 million in tuition aid.

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