PLATTSBURGH — Gov. Andrew Cuomo is proposing tuition-free college for the state's middle-class families, drawing support from local government and education officials. 

On Tuesday, Cuomo and U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont announced the Excelsior Scholarship, which, if approved by lawmakers, would allow state residents earning $125,000 or less to attend college at no cost.

Comparing student-loan debt to "starting a race with an anchor tied to your leg," Cuomo said his program would apply to full-time students who attend State University of New York or City University of New York colleges, including two-year community colleges.



The announcement is "fantastic news and should be applauded," County Legislature Chairman Harry McManus said in a statement, saying it "will enable hard-working families in Clinton County to receive a tremendous benefit.

"The future belongs to those who receive higher-education degrees, and to achieve this goal without the burden of student debt will allow young graduates to hit the ground running.

"As a former educator myself, I support this effort and believe that investing in the next generation is one of the best roles government can play.”



Under the governor's expansive plan, an estimated 940,000 households with college-age children would be eligible.

The program would be phased in over three years, beginning this fall, with those earning up to $100,000.

About 80 percent of all households in the state earn less than the $125,000 threshold.

"It should be a wake-up call to this nation," Cuomo said, "to say if you really want to be competitive globally, we have to have the best educated workforce, and that means we have to have college for every child, man or woman who wants to attend."

The program would cover tuition costs that remain once other state and federal aid is applied, at an estimated cost of about $163 million per year, his office said.



"Making college accessible and affordable to more students in the North Country and beyond has long been a priority at SUNY Plattsburgh," the college's president, John Ettling, said in a statement.

"Gov. Andrew Cuomo's ambitious proposal to provide free tuition for students of low- and middle-income families looks to be a strong addition to these efforts, particularly as it relates to full-time enrollment, college completion and the inclusion of four-year institutions.

"We look forward to learning more about the possibilities of the Excelsior Scholarship Program as it is prioritized in the next state budget session."



Clinton Community College President Ray DiPasquale told the Press-Republican his school is "encouraged" and "excited” by the announcement.

The Scholarship Program, which was announced on the same day DiPasquale took office as CCC's new leader, would make a big difference in the ability of Clinton County residents to get an education, he said.

“What better way to start a new job than with the announcement of free tuition for our students,” he added.



Saranac Lake Mayor Clyde Rabideau in a statement called the governor's proposal "bold, profound and exactly what we need as a state and nation to make our next generation of workers globally competitive without shackling these young people with lifelong debt.

"It’s an exciting and pragmatic path for other states to follow.”



Meanwhile, CCC Student Senate Vice President Jessica Rigby expressed mixed feelings about the proposed program.

"I would love to see a college education available to everyone who wants one," she told the Press-Republican. "Making tuition free would allow a lot of people who cannot consider an education to further themselves for a better career.

"I am, however, concerned as to how colleges that are already struggling financially will be compensated when it comes to an increase in students attending for free."


— Carolyn Thompson of the Associated Press contributed to this report

Ashleigh Livingston reports education and health news. She is a graduate of SUNY Plattsburgh, where she also serves as an adjunct lecturer.

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