The state of New York recently created The Excelsior Scholarship, which will offer free tuition at two and four- year colleges. Only full-time students within the State University of New York system would be covered, however, this does encompass 64 campuses and over 1 million students. Students that come from families who make up to $100,000 a year will be eligible in the first year of the program. The limit will then increase to $125,000 a year by the third year of the program.

While there are definitely advantages, there are some “fine print” items that might impact the scope of this scholarship. The scholarship will benefit higher-income New Yorkers more. Students will have to use other money like federal grants before resorting to the scholarship. This means that lower-income students will have less to gain. The U.S. Department of Education and the IRS have also made the federal scholarships like the Pell Grant harder to apply for, and if President Trump’s budget plan is enacted, it will withhold money from these federal grants.

The Excelsior only pays for half of what it costs to attend college. Books, fees, food, housing, and other miscellaneous costs are not covered by the scholarship, meaning that the family would need to find a way to cover these costs. This, once again, hurts lower-income students. Students must be going to college full time, and must also graduate on time. According to the National Center for Education Statistics, only 34% of freshman at public colleges graduate within four years. This could be a good incentive for some students, but it could also make life a lot more difficult for students that must also manage work, children, or other responsibilities. Graduates with The Excelsior must stay in the state. The students that take advantage of this scholarship must stay and work in New York state for at least two years for an associates degree and four years for a bachelor’s degree. If they do not, the scholarship becomes a loan.

Is free college a good thing? Would it produce a more educated population in this country? Currently, as of 2015 data from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States is ranked number eleven for the percent of the population with tertiary education. Would free college education help the U.S. move up that list? I think it’s hard to predict the outcomes. It does seem fairly certain that it would help more people go to college that can’t currently manage it because of the extremely high costs. But just how feasible is free college? That’s hard to determine too. New York may be a good case study to see if it can be instituted in the rest of the country.

As expensive as education is in this country, it is not surprising that students want some alleviation of college cost and debt. “The cost for college rises more than any other good or service in the U.S. economy since 1978. The cost of tuition rises at two or three times the rate of inflation every single year.” Young people have many concerns about succeeding with so much debt. Many students have trouble launching into the rest of their lives because of the debt they’re saddled with after or during their education. Even with more education, people are still struggling to find jobs. The problem of employment is another structural issue that may not be fixable with free college education.

Is free college really free? For starters, even college students that don’t receive free education but do receive scholarships and federal aid aren’t getting as much help as they need. Most of this money must be paid back, and the debt can make it feel like there wasn’t ever much help to begin with. Now that the price of college has skyrocketed to the extent that it has, it is harder and harder for the public to contribute in a meaningful way. Many feel that if an individual wants to pursue intellectual curiosity, they should foot the bill themselves. But, because of federal aid and scholarships, many students don’t foot the bill alone. Unfortunately, some taxpayers feel that the public shouldn’t have to pay for the education of others.

This has become a debate that is crucially important for determining the future of education in this country. I think it makes us, as a collective community, question our most important values. If we agree that education should be present as an equal opportunity for everyone and that it is something that we highly value as a country, then free college should be discussed and fleshed out. There is an excessive amount of spending that goes elsewhere that could be better spent on education – which is valuable, and offers and provides students crucial life skills. Is free education feasible? If every citizen contributes a fraction of their paycheck to help young people obtain an education, I think it could be feasible. The United States needs to decide whether education is valued enough to put a considerable amount of money into helping it become more accessible and attainable for all.

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