Free Tuition: Cuomo’s Plan May Not Be The Best Choice

We look forward to hearing more about Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s plan to provide free college tuition to the state’s public colleges and universities for qualifying New York students.

Many of the jobs the New York economy is creating require a college education, and even the fairly reasonable cost of college at a SUNY or CUNY college is too much for some families to bear. It makes sense the state would try to do something to help those who will need greater education to survive as New York’s economy continues to change in the decades to come.

Legislators need more information before signing on to this plan. For starters, Cuomo pegs the cost at $163 million with plans to funnel the money through a supplemental aid program, yet comes at a time when state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli is warning the state’s revenue receipts continue to lag behind projections. And, we’re sure public education advocates and lobbyists will have a problem with creating a $163 million program for free college when many of the students Cuomo is trying to help attend college are attending high schools that don’t prepare them for college in the first place.

It would be interesting if the governor had made mention of a plan to wring excess cost and regulation out of the higher education system by making more use of online learning or the exorbitant cost of books, room and board, and other fees. Such action could decrease the costs to the state, but no mention of such items was made last week. Cuomo does discuss trying to help more students graduate on time, but those efforts would appear to be hampered if many of the students attending college at no cost need remedial courses to handle courses that actually count toward their degree.

Parts of Hillary Clinton’s free college plan actually make more sense than does Cuomo’s broad overview of his free tuition plan. For example, Clinton’s “New College Compact” would have required students work at least 10 hours per week while college would be required to find ways to cut costs. Students should have some sort of a stake — either financially or through sweat equity — if taxpayers are asked to foot the bill for their education. And colleges must do a better job of making college more affordable by taking a hard look at costly requirements and regulations.

Chautauqua County has long suffered from a dearth of college graduates. We’re not sure Cuomo’s plan is the best way to address that shortage.