Thursday, January 5, 2017 - 2:31pm

JCC officials are considering the potential impact of Governor Andrew Cuomo’s proposal to make college tuition-free for middle class families at all two- and four-year State University of New York and City University of New York colleges.

Cuomo, along with U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, unveiled plans for New York’s tuition-free college degree program -- the Excelsior Scholarship -- on January 3. The plan, the first of its kind in the nation, would help alleviate the burden of student debt and enable young students in New York state to realize their dream of higher education, according to Governor Cuomo.

The proposed plan requires approval by the New York State Legislature.

“The governor’s proposal is great news for current and prospective JCC students,” remarked JCC president Cory L. Duckworth. “If the State Assembly approves the governor’s proposal, we would expect to see many more students engage in our educational programs.

Dr. Duckworth also noted his interest in examining the plan’s details which are said to encourage college enrollment and promote preparation for college and consistent progress toward degree completion once enrolled.

“These are three of the biggest challenges we face every day in our work at the college,” he added.

According to the governor’s website, more than 940,000 middle class families and individuals making up to $125,000 per year would qualify to attend college tuition-free at any New York state public institution under the plan. The Excelsior Scholarship would require participating students to be enrolled at a SUNY or CUNY two- or four-year college full-time. Tuition at JCC is currently $4,630 while tuition is $6,470 for undergraduate programs at SUNY and CUNY.

The new initiative would be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019. Based on enrollment projections, the plan will cost approximately $163 million per year once fully phased in.

“A reduction in student debt will lift a huge burden from the backs of our graduates who are struggling to get started in life,” said Dr. Duckworth. “In addition, the extra earning power they gain from their degrees will propel them forward economically in very substantial ways.”

“A college education is not a luxury – it is an absolute necessity for any chance at economic mobility, and with these first-in-the-nation Excelsior Scholarships, we’re providing the opportunity for New Yorkers to succeed, no matter what zip code they come from and without the anchor of student debt weighing them down,” Governor Cuomo said.

“New York is making a major investment in our greatest asset – our people – and supporting the dreams and ambitions of those who want a better life and are willing to work hard for it. I am honored to have the support of Senator Sanders, who led the way on making college affordability a right, and I know that together we can make this a reality with New York leading the way once again,” the governor added.

The initiative would leverage New York state’s Tuition Assistance Program which provides nearly $1 billion in grants to college students statewide. New York is one of only two states that offers this type of entitlement. Under the program, eligible students would still receive TAP and applicable federal grants. Additional state funds would cover the remaining tuition costs for incoming or existing eligible students.

The tuition free program is also designed to incentivize students to graduate from college on time. In 2013, only 38.7 percent of students attending a four-year public university and roughly 8.5 percent attending a two-year public college in New York completed their degrees on time. In 2015, the average student loan debt in New York was $29,320.

By mandating that students be enrolled full-time, New York’s free tuition program will work to improve graduation rates and alleviate the heavy burden of student debt by encouraging more students to graduate on time in two to four years, according to the governor’s website.

New York is also the only state to offer a need-based loan forgiveness entitlement program that provides awards to New York state college graduates regardless of their degree or profession. The Governor’s “Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness” program provides up to two years of student loan forgiveness to recent New York state college graduates.

Studies show a person with a bachelor’s degree, on average, will earn about 66 percent more over his or her lifetime than a person without a college degree. Those with an associate’s degree can expect to earn 24 percent more than a person with a high school diploma.

According to projections by the New York State Department of Labor, approximately 3.5 million jobs statewide will require an associate’s degree or higher by 2024.

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