Not everyone is happy about New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s plan to make public college tuition free—namely private college leaders who worry that the proposal undermines private options and jeopardizes the distribution of state assistance to students statewide, according to the Associated Press.
Last week, Gov. Cuomo announced a plan to make public college tuition at State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) colleges free for students from families that make $125,000 or less a year. While many politicians from both parties applauded the idea—including Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders—many at private colleges and universities see it as a threat to the current system.
The state’s current tuition assistance program gives out around a billion dollars in student aid each year, regardless of the school a student chooses to attend. The governor’s new proposal would serve students who go to a SUNY or CUNY institution, which Mary Beth Labate, president of the Commission on Independent Colleges and Universities in New York, claimed were “willing and seasoned partners.”
“We have a very strong public-private ecosystem, and it has been the longstanding policy that a student and their family know the best fit for them and oftentimes that is a private college,” Labate said.
Private school leaders believe that the proposal places them at a competitive disadvantage since it will lead many New York students to opt for a tuition-free program at a state school instead of choosing a private college or university—even if the latter option is a better fit for them academically.
The concern isn’t completely unwarranted: a Georgetown University study of Hillary Clinton’s free tuition proposal, which is the framework of Cuomo’s plan, estimated that while Clinton’s free tuition plan would have boosted enrollment at public colleges and universities by between 9% and 22%, enrollment at private schools would drop between 7% and 15%.
While more selective and prestigious schools would most likely not be affected by free public school tuition, officials like Matthew Malatesta, Union college vice president for admissions, financial aid and enrollment, hope that parents and students don’t forget about the complexity of selecting a college and that not completing the admission and financial aid process means students could give up the chance to receive large aid packages at private schools.
“There is a complexity to college prices that I hope doesn’t get lost in the conversation,” he said. “Affordability is obviously good, but affordability with no choice… you need to balance that.”
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