‘Free’ College Tuition Paid for by Taxpayers

A Legislative Column by Assemblyman Will Barclay
One of the cornerstones of the campaign for President of self-proclaimed socialist Bernie Sanders was that public colleges and universities should be tuition “free.”

Not to be outdone, Hillary Clinton also made tuition-free higher education part of her campaign.

Notwithstanding the fact that both Sanders and Clinton were unsuccessful in their bids for the presidency, Governor Cuomo, this year, is following their lead by making “free” college a part of his 2017-18 budget proposal.

At first glance, “free” college sounds very attractive.

Why not?

The cost of higher education continues to increase at a rate far outpacing inflation and many graduates end up being saddled with huge student loan debt.

The thought is, by simply passing legislation making college “free,” these serious issues will be resolved.

The problem with Sanders’, Clinton’s and Cuomo’s proposals is what is meant by “free.”

Unless college administrators and professors are willing to work for no pay and the expense of maintaining the classrooms, athletic facilities, student dormitories and other buildings that make up a college campus disappears, money for “free” college must come from somewhere.

That somewhere, of course, is you the taxpayer.

Governor Cuomo claims that his “free” college proposal, when fully phased in, will cost New Yorkers approximately $163 million a year.

In a state budget that exceeds $150 billion, an additional $163 million may not seem like too much.

What the $163 million number does not reveal however is how much New York already spends on higher education.

For example, the state spends approximately $1 billion a year on our Tuition Assistance Program and last year spent $4 billion in direct aid to SUNY and CUNY.

If you add in community college aid, aid for capital projects, and various scholarship programs, the state last year alone spent $6.5 billion on higher education.

While I support much of the state spending on higher education, it is disingenuous to say free college will only cost the state $163 million.

Rather, if you accept the Governor’s numbers, it will cost the state an additional $163 million on top of what we already spend on higher education.

Moreover, even if we are willing to accept these additional costs, there are a number of other issues with the Governor’s proposal.

For instance, the impact it will have on private colleges and universities.

Unlike TAP awards that can be used for tuition at private colleges, the Governor’s “free” tuition proposal only applies to tuition at SUNY and CUNY.

Presumably, given the choice of having to pay tuition at private colleges versus getting free tuition at SUNY, a student will choose to go to SUNY.

This could depress enrollment at NY’s 147 private colleges and universities, forcing them to raise tuition further on those who still chose to attend one of those schools.

In addition, while there are some New York residency requirements to be eligible for the “free” tuition, they are lax.

Under the Governor’s proposal, a student is eligible if he or she has been a resident of New York for only one year.

Arguably, a student could move to New York, establish residency for one year, attend a SUNY school without paying tuition and then leave immediately upon graduating.

Moreover, there is no requirement that the student be a U.S. citizen.

If the Governor’s proposal is enacted, illegal immigrants who are New York residents will also be eligible.

All Americans should be concerned with the increasing cost of higher education.

That being said, having government take over these costs will not solve this problem nor does not make college “free.”

As the NYS budget process progresses, I look forward to making my concerns regarding Governor Cuomo’s “free” college proposal known.

If you have any questions or comments regarding this or any other state issue, please contact me.

My office can be reached by mail at 200 N. Second St., Fulton, NY 13069, by e-mail at [email protected], or by calling (315) 598-5185.

You can also friend me, Assemblyman Barclay, on facebook.



  2. I am 65 on S.S. i got a $4.00 raise in my check, cumo wants people in n.y. state to pay for illegals to go to college free, if anything they should be remove and sent back to where ever the come from, i will not eat cat food to send them to school, como needs to be remove as gov, and he wonders why people are moveing out of n.y. state,

  3. Free has no value…think about it. The degrees will be useless. And the tax payers will be paying for it. My taxes are high enough. In fact, my taxes will keep me from living in NY after I retire. That’s right…..taxes will force me to live in another state after retirement.
    I predict that students will abuse this system, much like the current student loan programs are abused. Students are getting loans and taking 6-8 years to get a 4 year degree, all the while knowing they cannot possibly pay back any of the money and quite frankly they don’t care.

  4. The trouble is people in NYS keep voting these liberal leftists back into office term after term. People complain about sky high tax rates, rock bottom job opportunities, illegals getting benefits while honest hard-working taxpayers get scrutinized by the government, etc. Feel free to offer college to everyone Gov Cuomo II. But, be sure to add the disclaimer in there stating that if the student failed a class or fails to complete a degree, then they owe the state whatever the presumed cost would’ve been had they not excepted the subsidy. Better yet, come up with a revenue neutral way of paying for the program. I’m sure there is $163 million worth of pork in New York State’s budget. Cut some of the moocher programs and I’m sure you’ll find plenty of options to play with. This is nothing more than a bait and switch to get the naïve Millennial vote. They see this as another government entitlement and have absolutely no idea how it will affect them years down the road. By then the old Millennials will cry Wolf and demand the next generation of youngsters pay their debt for them. This whole millennial generation is nothing but moochers.

  5. In response to Mr. Wagners comment! it’s not NY State that keeps voting these people back in office, it’s the 10 plus million residents of NY City! that’s who keeps voting them back in! In the most recent Gov Election the Republican candidate beat Cuomo upstate, but the deciding factor was NY City, and the couple of counties surrounding the city! upstate cant’ compete with that. We are all being help hostage by the cease pool down there, millions of illegals leeching of the system, costing us Billions of dollars. Free tuition is going to mean more taxes for us that go to work everyday, and my daughter will not get that “freebie” because I make to much money. Even thought Mr. Cuomo stated in a speech a few days ago, it didn’t matter how much money Mom has or how big a house, there’s still a threshold of income! The hard working men and women of the state still subsidize millions of people going to college at state schools. So hey let’s just add more of a burden, were going to be just like California eventually, in the red and broke, all because the liberal leftists didn’t have anymore of our money to spend and they sure as hell aren’t going to spend there’s.

  6. Yes, the millennial generation is mooching – you’ve got us! We’ll just be here paying into Social Security that we’ll never see to pay for your generation that decided making it an unsustainable program was a brilliant plan. No worries – we never wanted to have decent paying jobs, own homes or raise families.

  7. Hey fed up why dont you go in to the army like i did and work till you are 65 like i did and pay taxes all those years like i did, than come back and let me us know how you made out.

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