Gov. Cuomo Signs Free Tuition Bill Into Law at LaGuardia Community College

Gov. Andrew Cuomo came to CUNY’s LaGuardia Community College on a warm spring day to sign into law his pathbreaking Excelsior Scholarship, providing free tuition to qualified students and making New York State a national leader in widening access to quality higher education.

“We believe in the dream,” Gov. Cuomo declared, as he was joined by members of CUNY’s Board of Trustees and another champion of free tuition, Hillary Clinton, the former U.S. Secretary of State and U.S. Senator from New York.

The initiative, to be phased in over three years, will provide free tuition at CUNY and SUNY colleges to students whose families earn $125,000 a year or less and meet other criteria, giving thousands of students the career benefits of a college diploma without the burden of high levels of debt. The governor said the Excelsior Scholarship would significantly boost working- and middle-class New Yorkers’ economic mobility and strengthen the state’s economy.

Since 2008, Gov. Cuomo said, 95 percent of the jobs created require some college credits, if not a degree. “Today college is what high school was 70 years ago,” he said. “It is not a luxury, it is a necessity.”

“No child will be denied college because they can’t afford it, and the dream of opportunity is for everyone,” the governor told the crowd. “We say every child has a chance to make it in our New York.”

Broad access to a high-quality education has been a core value of CUNY since its founding 170 years ago, and the University’s leaders have enthusiastically supported the governor’s bold initiative. “This investment in our students and our state will pay dividends for years to come,” William C. Thompson Jr., Chairman of CUNY’s board of trustees, and James B. Milliken, the Chancellor, said.

In her presidential campaign, Secretary Clinton proposed a free college tuition program and Gov. Cuomo said that this had helped inspire the Excelsior Scholarship.

“This is an idea whose time has come,” Secretary Clinton commented. “It’s also the fastest way to give working- and middle-class families a raise.” She added, “We don’t need to be building walls, we need to be building bridges.”

CUNY has more than 270,000 degree-seeking students at 25 colleges and schools spread across all five boroughs. Its mission has been to provide a high-quality education to all New Yorkers, but especially students from low- income, underrepresented and immigrant groups.

The University was recently recognized as an extraordinary engine of social mobility in an important new study. The study ranked colleges across the country on how well they elevated low-income students to the middle class and beyond. CUNY colleges held six of the top ten spots, and the study found the University moved six times as many graduates upward as the Ivy-plus colleges, combined.

Also attending the historic Excelsior signing were CUNY trustees, CUNY college presidents, former congressman from New York City, Charles Rangel, and Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, as well as LaGuardia Community College students.

John Valenzuela, a LaGuardia nursing student, said the governor’s scholarship would provide great benefits for students like himself who have struggled to meet the costs of college. “Hundreds of thousands of young people will now be given the chance to achieve whatever they set their minds to, without having to worry about the financial burden on their families and their futures,” he said.