DC 37 members turned out in force at LaGuardia Community College on Jan. 3 to hear Gov. Andrew Cuomo announce a plan to offer free tuition to hundreds of thousands working class students.
Under the plan, called the Excelsior Scholarships Program, New Yorkers whose families earn $125,000 a year or less would be able to attend City and State University tuition free.
Eighty percent of New York households earn $125,000 or less each year, according to the governor’s office. Enrollment projections indicate that 940,000 households with college-age children would be eligible for the tuition-free program, including DC 37 families.
“Our members know the burden of student debt and the Catch-22 of trying to get ahead with a college education while falling behind in paying the rent and living expenses,” said DC 37 Executive Director Henry Garrido. “The governor’s proposal is a major step toward leveling the playing field for New York’s working families.”
If approved by the state Legislature, the program would be phased in over a three-year period. New York families earning up to $100,000 a year would be eligible beginning this fall. The maximum household income would be raised to $110,000 in 2018, then $125,000 in 2019.
Former presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders attended the governor’s announcement and praised the plan, calling it a “revolutionary idea,”
“It’s an idea that is going to reverberate not only throughout the state of New York, but throughout the country,” Sanders said.
The cost of a college education continues to soar in the United States. In New York, the average student loan debt was $29,320 in 2015. Nationwide, student debt has reached $1.2 trillion–higher than credit card debt, car debt and home equity lines of credit.
Over the past two years, DC 37 has worked with community and student groups in a coalition called the CUNY Rising Alliance to promote tuition-free college education for students at CUNY, where several thousand union members work.
To ease the financial burden on members with college loans, the union has held workshops to inform members about programs that will help them reduce their debt.