Cuomo's Free College Tuition Program Faces Criticism from Left and Right

There is new criticism from both the left and the right to Governor Andrew Cuomo's new free college tuition program for middle-class families. NY1's Lindsey Christ filed the following report.

With Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders at his side, Governor Andrew Cuomo has been celebrating his new Excelsior Scholarship as a groundbreaking plan to make college free for the middle class. But critics are emerging from every direction.

Assemblyman Charles Barron, a liberal firebrand, called a news conference Tuesday to denounce the program as a publicity stunt. He says students from poor and working-class families, whose tuition is already free, should be helped with other expenses.. 

"What about textbooks? What about fees? What about transportation? What about room and board?" Barron said.

Student leaders at CUNY and conservative think tanks also are criticizing the governor.  

"They've taken a pretty bad plan and made it even worse by introducing a lot of complications that essentially make it less generous for students," said Beth Akers, senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute.

Under the program approved last week, students whose families make less than $125,000 a year will not have to pay tuition at public colleges. 

"College is what high school was 70 years ago," Cuomo said.

New York is the first state to offer free tuition for the middle class at two- and four-year colleges. 

"It sends a clear signal to all young people in the city of New York that if they aspire to a higher education degree, that they may be able to do so without concern," said Jose L. Cruz, president of Lehman College CUNY.

Critics said students won't have an easy time. First, they're required to exhaust other scholarship opportunities. And they must be enrolled full-time, which leaves most community college students out. After graduation, recipients will have to remain in the state for as many years as they received aid.

"This creates a lot of complexity to the program, when we already know that when financial aid is complex, it leads students to think college may not be afforable for them," Akers said. 

Nobody knows how many students will actually take advantage of the new scholarship, and whether the budget even includes enough funding to cover them all.

The governor calls his plan a big first step. Boosters, and skeptics, are watching closely.

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