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What to Know About New York’s Plan to Offer Free College

2 minute read

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed legislation on Monday to provide free tuition to students attending two-year and four-year programs at public colleges in the state — a plan he is hailing as the first of its kind in the nation, amid a growing push for affordable college.

The Excelsior Scholarship — passed as part of the state budget on Sunday — will provide free tuition to students attending the State University or City University of New York if their families earn $125,000 or less per year.

The state estimates that 940,000 families with college-aged children will qualify for free tuition. Here are the key things to know:

Families making as much as $125,000 per year are eligible

New York students whose families make up to $100,000 per year will be eligible for free tuition at the state’s public colleges in the fall of 2017. The income cap will increase to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019.

Undocumented students are not eligible, CNN Money reported. Students must be a citizen, permanent resident or refugee to qualify for the scholarship.

Recipients must meet certain academic requirements

Students who receive the scholarship are required to enroll full-time, take an average of 30 credits per year, maintain the necessary GPA to stay in school and graduate on time.

‘Tuition-free’ does not mean completely free

The scholarship covers tuition, which is currently $6,470 at the State University of New York (SUNY) for one year of study toward a bachelor’s degree. But it does not include student fees or room and board, which add up to about $14,230 per year, according to SUNY.

The indirect costs associated with earning a degree — including books, supplies and transportation — can also add up.

There’s a post-graduation catch

Scholarship beneficiaries are required to live and work in the state after graduation for the same number of years as they received the scholarship. If they don’t, they’ll be required to pay back the tuition money.

This point has drawn criticism from some free-college advocates who say it could force students to reject out-of-state job offers. But Cuomo defended the requirement on Monday.

“Why should New Yorkers pay for your college education and then you take off and you move to California?” he said, according to the Wall Street Journal. “The concept of investing in you and your education is that you’re going to stay here and be an asset to the state.”

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Write to Katie Reilly at Katie.Reilly@time.com