Thoughts On Governor Cuomo’s Plan For Public School Tuition

BY BENJAMIN GILBERG

With the commencement of the new administration without a respite from the bitterness of the election season, we began to see the ramifications of the losing campaign along with the winning one. Included in the 2016 Democratic Party platform was relieving college graduates of enormous and burdensome debt. It was one of the stances that defined Bernie Sanders’ campaign. On January 3, with Senator Sanders by his side, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo proposed a plan whereby students from families earning $125,000 or less in income would receive free tuition for public colleges.

The scope of the proposal may seem nearly boundless when fully implemented and it surely has many controversies. I will only address a few points on the matter, as I intend to only write a short essay rather than a long pamphlet. Despite the flaws of it in theory, it is an impactful start towards the implementation of an educational system centering around merit. Nevertheless, the flaws must be considered.

I am confident that there is a growing sentiment that, regardless of where or from whom one comes from, anyone with the ability to succeed ought to have the means to do so. Neither wealth nor name is an indication of intelligence and talent. The greatest investment a government could make is in its people. In the end, the people build the economy. The government merely catalyses the process. Ambition is the key for anyone to realize his or her full potential. The key to ambition is competition.

A few decades ago, a high school diploma was sufficient for obtaining a stable and, often, lucrative career. Today, it is not enough for most people. Graduating college is more commonly seen as an expectation than as going above and beyond. Many argue that if public colleges were free, the number of college graduates would rise (due to the fact that more people would be able to afford it), causing the number of opportunities for employment to fall. Therefore, the value of a degree would gradually transition to that of a diploma. I contend, however, that the plan will create the opposite reaction. It will not decrease the competitiveness of obtaining a higher education but rather bolster it.

It can be assumed that with its execution, the plan will convince more students, who otherwise would be discouraged due to financial constraints, to apply to college. Unless existing schools remain relatively the same size and the number of schools do not significantly rise, the number of available seats will remain the same, making admittance more competitive. I would heed caution in enlarging the system out of fear of the declination of its value. Merit alone ought to be the factor used to determine selection into the state’s pristine public colleges. Anyone with the talent and intelligence for great success must have access to the means to it.

While Governor Cuomo’s proposal, as briefly laid out, will fuel ambition in a competitive atmosphere for students, I’m afraid it will do the opposite for the breadwinners of the household. When fully implemented, the plan will eventually establish the cut-off for those eligible for the scholarship at precisely $125,000 of income.

In theory, a student coming from a family that makes very slightly over $125,000 a year will have to pay full price. Considering this, it seems likely that the opportunity for deception will prove irresistible for many people. Some may attempt to fabricate their tax returns. If a parent makes $125,500, for instance, he or she may even be compelled to slightly cut his or her working schedule in order to reduce the total income to below $125,000, thus hindering economic-boosting ambition. I do not find it practical to cement a concrete figure to determine who will and will not receive free tuition.

Families live under different circumstances and ought to be analyzed individually. There are many other questions to consider. How many children does each family support? Is a family sending multiple children to college at the same time? Is it right to hold a family of six in the same light as a family of three? The scholarship ought to be granted to those that are in absolute need of it and income is not the only indication of need. It is surely plausible that one family with a larger income than another one has a greater need for assistance.

Despite its imperfections, Cuomo’s plan, as a concept, will serve in the best interest of the economic stability for the state. It will guarantee that every capable person, whether wealthy or impoverished, has the chance to contribute to the economy to the best of their ability. Those that would be overwhelmed with student debt after college may even be encouraged to pursue a higher degree in their respective fields if the burden is alleviated. I do not see it as carrying a few to the finish line but rather as ensuring that everyone gets the same start. It is not inconsistent with the “American Dream” but instead affirms its true meaning.

Although the intended end is well grounded, the manner of execution must be scrupulously examined and questioned.

Benjamin Gilberg is a resident of Suffern