Assemblymen James Skoufis of Woodbury and Kevin Cahill of Kingston are among a group of Democrats urging their conference leaders to modify Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposal for free tuition at SUNY and CUNY by raising the income threshold for those who would qualify, enabling households with a combined income of up to $175,000 to claim the benefit.
Cuomo’s proposal sets the earnings cutoff at $100,000 for this fall, $110,00 next year and $125,000 thereafter. In a letter to Speaker Carl Heastie last month, Skoufis, Cahill and 29 other Democrats argue those levels are too low to capture the full middle-class, especially in higher earning areas like the Hudson Valley and Long Island. “Despite its pronouncement to the contrary, the current plan does not benefit large swaths of New York’s middle-class,” they wrote.
The group also suggested excluding federal Pell grants from calculations of what the state must pay to fully cover tuition at state colleges and universities for qualifying students. Rather than subtract that funding from the “Excelsior Scholarship” the student would get for tuition, the Assembly members argue that students should be able to use Pell grants for substantial other expenses, such as room and board.
In addition, the letter writers proposed softening the requirement that students take 15 credit hours of classes every semester or else forfeit their free tuition. “This punitive provision fails to adequately take into account the variety of circumstances that may prompt a student to temporarily scale back their credit hours,” they said.
Instead, they suggested requiring recipients to graduate from two-year colleges within three years and four-year colleges within five.