New York’s Excelsior Scholarship, now offering tuition-free public college to students from families making up to $125,000 a year is “deeply flawed,” and the $119 million the state now budgets for Excelsior would be better spent on expanding the state’s Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for lower-income students, according to a report issued today by the Empire Center for Public Policy.

The report – entitled “Excelsior Illusion: Getting Real about ‘Free’ College in NY” – takes issue with Governor Cuomo’s claim that the Excelsior program was needed to deal with a broad college affordability crisis in New York. Excelsior is designed to eliminate tuition charges for eligible full-time students aiming for two- and four-year degrees at State University (SUNY) and City University (CUNY).

In his January 2017 rollout of the Excelsior proposal, the governor described college as “incredibly expensive,” citing average debt of $30,000 that he compared to “starting a race with an anchor tied to your leg.” But E.J. McMahon, Empire Center’s research director and author of “Excelsior Illusion,” said the governor’s “portrayal of a broad college affordability crisis afflicting middle-class New Yorkers was greatly exaggerated, for SUNY and CUNY students in particular.”

“Dubious premises aside,” McMahon writes, “the Excelsior Scholarship is deeply flawed in several respects. It is regressive, offering a benefit that has more net value to students with higher incomes; it is administratively cumbersome; and it shuts out the large share of New York high school graduates who choose colleges in the state’s exceptionally large private sector.”

“Excelsior Illusion” includes a capsule profile of the state’s higher education sector – which is the third largest in the country, bolstered by the largest concentration of private independent colleges and universities in any state. Private colleges educate more four-year New York undergraduates than SUNY and CUNY combined, double the national average, the report says, and the oversized private institutional role in New York has long been reflected in bipartisan support for TAP’s broad eligibility standards, the report notes.

The report describes TAP, which provides means-tested aid to students at both private and public colleges, as “a time-tested, well-funded college tuition aid program that is better designed to provide support where it is most needed.” Combined with federal Pell grants and institutional aid, TAP has provided a tuition-free or heavily discounted college education to generations of low-income New Yorkers over the past 45 years, but its value in real terms has fallen far below the peak levels of 1990, the report says.

The report concludes: “Beyond student aid, New York officials need to resist ‘free college’ sloganeering and focus on broader programmatic and budgetary priorities for the entire higher education sector, long a strategic asset for the state, which will be facing stiffer demographic and financial headwinds in the decade ahead.”

The Empire Center, based in Albany, is an independent, not-for-profit, non-partisan think tank dedicated to promoting policies that can make New York a better place to live, work and raise a family.

You may also like

Most Long Island Educators Paid at Least $100,000 Last Year

18% of all public-school teachers and administrators employed by school districts outside New York City were paid over $100,000 last year Read More

Empire Center Appeals COVID FOIL Request Delays

Empire Center has appealed four delayed Freedom of Information Law requests pertaining to state COVID-19 data Read More

Three of 62 Requested COVID Data Sets Made Available through FOIL

Just three COVID data sets have been made fully available in the month since the Empire Center officially submitted 62 FOIL requests Read More

A Shadowy Non-Profit that Employs One-Fifth of the New York State Health Department Claims To Be Exempt from FOIL

In another blow to transparency in Albany, a non-profit group closely tied to the state Health Department is refusing to publicly disclose its payroll records under the Freedom of Information Law. (HRI) has funct Read More

New York Spends More than All Other States on Education and Medicaid

New York’s spending on education and Medicaid will leave a hole in the budget after federal COVID relief money runs out Read More

NYC Public Educator Pensions Rise Again

Average pension benefits paid to newly retired public educators in New York City rose again in 2020, according to data posted today at SeeThroughNY.net for New York City Teachers’ Retirement System (NYCTRS).  Read More

Six-Figure School Pay Hit Another Record Last Year

School districts outside New York City paid a record-high number of employees $100,000 or more during the 2019-20 school year as schools were physically closed for the final three months, according to data posted today on SeeThroughNY, the Empire Center’s government transparency website. Read More

NY Special Education Fails Kids and Taxpayers: Report

New York’s special education system has ballooned to cover almost a fifth of public school K-12 students and special education accounts for about a quarter of all K-12 costs, all while producing middling results for stude Read More

Subscribe

Sign up to receive updates about Empire Center research, news and events in your email.

CONTACT INFORMATION

Empire Center for Public Policy
30 South Pearl St.
Suite 1210
Albany, NY 12207

Phone: 518-434-3100

General Inquiries: Info@EmpireCenter.org

Press Inquiries: Press@EmpireCenter.org

About

The Empire Center is an independent, non-partisan, non-profit think tank located in Albany, New York. Our mission is to make New York a better place to live and work by promoting public policy reforms grounded in free-market principles, personal responsibility, and the ideals of effective and accountable government.

Empire Center Logo Enjoying our work? Sign up for email alerts on our latest news and research.
Together, we can make New York a better place to live and work!