Lawmakers seek answers surrounding governor's free college tuition proposal

Lawmakers question free college tuition proposal
Posted at 6:28 PM, Jan 24, 2017
and last updated 2017-01-25 10:36:58-05

Harold Price is a sophomore at Buffalo State College, and by the time he graduates, he said he'll be facing about $20,000 in debt. “I think it's unfortunate to go into the job market the way it is. But I’ll also have to chip away at this seemingly impossible amount."

Price is one of an estimated 80 thousand students statewide who would qualify for tuition free college under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship Program. The program offers free public college to under graduates who come from a home with an income less than $125,000. That's why he supports the idea and he hopes lawmakers will too.

Lawmakers took a critical look at the concept during Tuesday’s joint budget hearing on higher education in Albany. They had an opportunity to question education leaders, like outgoing SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, about the proposal.

Questions remain about much of the proposal including whether there would be a residency requirement for eligible students or how it would impact class sizes. 

Still--Senate Democrats like Tim Kennedy are showing their support for the governor's plan. “I applaud the governor for starting the conversation. I think it's important for all of us to enhance the affordability of higher education for all of our kids,” he said. 

If passed, the governor said it would cost $163 million this year. Some believe it will be more expensive. It's also unclear how the state would pay for the plan. “I don't think you need a college education to know that nothing is really free. This is taxpayer dollars,” said Senator Robert Ortt.

Free tuition is part of the governor's executive budget. Lawmakers say it's early in the budget negotiation process. They have until April 1st to finalize the state spending plan.