Bernie Sanders Joins New York Governor Cuomo To Announce Free College Tuition Proposal

Earlier this morning, alongside Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced a plan for free college tuition for any New Yorker whose family makes less than $125,000 a year. The proposal, known as the Excelsior scholarship, would apply to anyone accepted to any of New York’s two- or four-year city or state universities. According to the New York Times, approximately one million New York families would currently qualify for this program, which Cuomo hopes to put into effect this coming fall.

“If the plan is approved, the Cuomo administration estimates the program would allow nearly a million New York families with college-age children, or independent adults, to qualify. The estimated costs of the program, when fully put in place in 2019, would be $163 million, though the administration acknowledges that estimate could be too low — or too high — depending on participation.”

Cuomo publicly unveiled his proposal at an event at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, where he explained the importance of providing equal opportunity to all.

“What high school was 75 years ago is what college is today. College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success, and this society should say we’re going to pay for college because you need college to be successful. Other countries have already done it. It’s time this country catches up.”

The governor also reminded the audience that providing accessible college education would benefit America as a whole. “If you really want to be competitively 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. Other countries have already done it, it’s time this country catches up, it’s time this country says to every citizen, you can be whatever you want to be in America.”

Introducing the former Democratic presidential candidate who had inspired the tuition-free college proposal, Cuomo thanked Sanders for his vision and dedication to the cause. The issue of tuition-free public college was a major part of Sanders’ campaign platform last year.

“Senator Sanders spoke for the middle class and the working men and women all across this nation and the issues that are important to them. He spoke to this issue of college affordability, and was ahead of his time in doing it, and really awoke the nation to this crisis of college affordability, and we all owe him a big thank you and round of applause for what he did.”

Beginning his remarks in typical Sanders fashion, the Vermont senator didn’t mince words, managing to immediately highlight inequality as the root of many of America’s current problems.

“The issue is that in a time when we have a President-elect who thinks it’s a great idea to give hundreds of billions of dollars in tax breaks to the top two-tenths of one percent, we have a better idea, and that idea is to make public colleges and universities tuition-free for every person in New York state, in Vermont, and in America.

Continuing, Sanders explained the importance of higher education in an increasingly globalized society.

“The economy has changed, technology has changed, the global economy has changed, and if we are going to do justice to the working families of this country, to low-income families, if we are going to have an economy that creates the kind of jobs that we need for our people, then we must have the best educated workforce in the world.”

Sanders supporter holds up end student debt sign

Comparing the educational attainment of the American people to what it was a generation ago, Sanders illuminated a concerning statistic before praising Gov Cuomo for his forward-thinking, progressive leadership.

“And here is a truth, which is an unpleasant truth, but it’s a truth nonetheless, and that is 30 or so years ago, we had in this country, the highest percentage of college graduates of any nation on earth. We were number one. Today, we are number 11. That is not what America is supposed to be about. And today, what Governor Cuomo is proposing, is a revolutionary idea for higher education. And this idea will reverberate not only throughout the state of New York, but throughout this country.”

Sanders then pointed out the sheer absurdity of insisting that young people spend thousands of dollars, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars, simply for an opportunity to compete in today’s economy. Highlighting the skyrocketing costs attached to achieving a college education, and the years it takes to pay off student loans, the senator also lamented the current problem some seniors face of having their social security garnished to pay off decades-old student loans.

Ending his speech with a prediction, Sanders was both hopeful and confident. “And here is a prediction that I make, in urging the New York State legislature to follow the governor’s lead, to pass this legislation, here’s my prediction: If New York does it this year, mark my words, state after state will follow. And the day will come, when we understand that public education in America is not simply kindergarten through high school, but that public education in the year 2017 means making public colleges and public universities tuition-free.

Under the leadership of Gov Cuomo, New York has also recently lead the way in obtaining minimum wage increases, paid family leave, marriage equality, and gun safety laws.

[Featured Image by Mary Altaffer/AP Images]