Being Right: Creating a Willing Workforce

New York State, as of Sunday, April 9, passed a bill to provide free college tuition at state schools for students from families that earn less than $100,000 per year now, and $125,000 in 2019. Before the bill was passed, New York was spending in excess of $1 billion annually on college financial assistance. This bill was originally championed by Governor Cuomo, but was supported by lawmakers of both parties.

The law will be phased in and fully implemented by the year 2019, and 80 percent of households in New York will be eligible for the state-funded tuition. California currently offers free college tuition at state universities, while Tennessee offers free tuition at community colleges. New York is the first state to offer free tuition at both four-year institutions and community colleges. Moreover, New York has the largest public college system in the United States.

It seems too good to be true, but there is one catch: students that received free tuition at State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) schools must live and work in the state of New York for five years after graduation or be legally forced to pay the money back to the state. Students that wish to pursue graduate degrees immediately after college must return to New York after their graduate studies are finished to fulfill the work requirement outlined in the bill. This stipulation was added by Republicans in the Senate to ensure that the taxpayers do not face the burden of funding college tuition for students, in turn for students to just leave the state after they have graduated.

“We have to get away from educating people and then having them move away. We want to create a climate for business and new jobs,” Scott Reiff, Senate GOP spokesman, said.

Undoubtedly, college tuition costs have been getting out of hand, and the increases in prices have far outpaced inflation and wage increases for the last three decades. While some educators are outraged by the stipulation that was placed on the bill, I really take no issue with it. This law is unequivocally a step in the right direction and will make a college education a reality for so many individuals that did not have the option to attend before. Even adult students that did not attend college are eligible for free tuition. Financially, it made sense to pass this bill, as the estimated total cost will be $163 million.

Living and working in New York State isn’t a bad price to pay for a free education. Quite frankly, it’s not like they will be stuck in Siberia for five years. The economic benefit that this could bring to the state of New York will potentially be huge. Hopefully, after this law is implemented, businesses will be incentivized to move to the state of New York, knowing that there is an educated and willing workforce available. Time will tell, but I believe that this is a critical step for New York State, and hopefully other lawmakers across the country will follow this initiative as well.