Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, joined onstage by Sen. Bernie Sanders, proposed a path to free college tuition for hundreds of thousands of New York students on Tuesday.
Speaking at LaGuardia Community College in Long Island City, Queens, Cuomo introduced the Excelsior Scholarship, which would help cover the cost of any two- or four-year SUNY or CUNY school for students whose families earn up to $125,000 annually. Individuals making up to $125,000 annually would also qualify.
"It is going to be the first program like it in the United States of America," Cuomo said. "It’s once again New York leading the way."
The program, which requires state legislative approval, will be a supplement to the state's Tuition Assistant Program and federal aid.
"Under the program, eligible students would still receive TAP and any applicable federal grants," a news release about the scholarship said. "Additional state funds would cover the remaining tuition costs for incoming or existing eligible students."
Sanders (I-Vt.), a Brooklyn native who pushed for free higher education during his campaign for president, said this program would be a revolutionary.
"If New York State does it this year, mark my words, state after state will follow," he said.
Cuomo said graduating with thousands of dollars of debt is "like starting a race with an anchor tied to your leg," but he said higher education is "a mandatory step if you really want to be a success."
The governor added that about 70 percent of jobs in New York require a college education.
More than 940,000 middle-class families and individuals in New York would qualify for the scholarship, Cuomo said.
If approved, the program would be phased in over three years, beginning in the fall of 2017 for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually and increasing over the next two years to include all families making up to $125,000 annually.
The plan would cost about $163 million per year when fully phased in, Cuomo said.