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Free-tuition program would benefit 32,000 SUNY students

About 32,000 students would benefit from the state's new tuition-free scholarship program for State University of New York colleges, the Cuomo administration projects.

Roughly 180,000 students attending SUNY colleges or universities currently pay no tuition, because it's fully covered by the state's Tuition Assistance Program and federal PELL grants, according to Robert F. Mujica Jr., the state's budget director.

That number would rise by 22,000 students this fall,  when the state's new Excelsior Scholarship program kicks in for SUNY students whose families earn less than $100,000, and by 32,000 when the income cap is raised to $125,000 in 2019, Mujica said.

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the tuition-free program – a "last-dollar" scholarship that picks up whatever tuition TAP and PELL don't cover – is one of the proudest accomplishments of his tenure. The new state budget includes $163 million to pay for the program.

Free SUNY tuition plan could alter New York's higher-ed landscape

"I believe other states are going to follow this because it makes sense," Cuomo said Tuesday during a meeting with reporters and editors of The Buffalo News.

"At one time, we said, 'We have public high school and people need high school to be successful. The workforce needs a high school education," Cuomo said. "Today you need college the way you needed high school 50 years ago. We should have public college for people who can't afford it.

"All those middle-class families who wonder about 'How am I going to pay for college?' All those kids who wonder about 'How am I going to pay for college?' All those kids who go through that mountain of debt," Cuomo said. "That’s all resolved with this."

Cuomo also responded to critics who said the tuition-free scholarship program for SUNY would hurt New York's vast network of private colleges.

"You're limited by the SUNY capacity by definition," Cuomo said, "and the SUNY capacity would never be enough to really endanger the private colleges."

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