Struggling families get boost in plan

Earlier this year, Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed a plan to offer college tuition-free at New York’s public colleges and universities. This is a pioneering proposal that will bring much-needed tuition support for working- and middle-class families across New York, and I’m glad to support state attention on more affordable options for college.

For families with a household income under $125,000, the Governor’s Excelsior Scholarship program would provide “last-dollar” assistance for tuition at public universities like SUNY Fredonia. Once existing state, federal, and campus aid is applied toward tuition, Excelsior Scholarship funds would be used to close the gap so that the cost of tuition — currently $6,470 per year — would be covered.

Although students and families still would have to cover the costs of fees, books, and supplies — and residential students would have additional costs of room and board — this program would ease the financial burden of college for approximately 940,000 eligible families across the state. In Western New York, 85 percent of families would qualify for tuition-free public college.

As president of SUNY Fredonia, I know that this plan would help many students and families struggling to pay for their education. It may also open the door to many students in Northern Chautauqua County who could commute to campus and have a larger amount of the cost of attendance covered.

Some critics worry about the cost of the proposal, and there are still many details to be worked out. But I see this as one of many steps New York state can make to encourage college-going and to provide assistance for middle-class families who may not qualify for full financial assistance but still struggle to fund college.

I am hoping that the state will also increase base funding (so that tuition can be kept low), provide maintenance of effort for salaries negotiated at the state level, support requests for more competitive out-of-state tuition, and support capital funding to maintain and modernize facilities.

At Fredonia, we are committed to keeping our costs as low; with extra state support for individuals, attaining a degree would become more possible and encourage greater college going in our region.

Virginia Horvath is president of the State University of New York at Fredonia.