NY Gov. Andrew Cuomo Waves Wand to Give Magical 'Free' College to State Residents

P. Gardner Goldsmith | April 13, 2017
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In February, we reported that the city of San Francisco had a new “free college” plan for city residents that included an added stipend for books and travel expenses. We also noted that nothing was “free," and that taxpayers were going to be forced to pay for the whole she-bang.

Well, the heavy-hitting politicians in the state of New York couldn’t let San Fran be the only collectivist hodgepodge to mess with this bad idea. On April 9, the N.Y. legislature passed “The Excelsior Scholarship” a bill stealing Stan Lee’s favorite phrase and granting “free public college to" state residents. On April 13, the mighty N.Y. Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed it into law.

Of course, that phrase “granting free public college to” should really read, “forcing people to pay for” the N.Y. college tuition of any state resident whose family earns up to -- get this -- $100,000 a year prior to the fall semester this year, $110,000 in the fall of 2018, and $125,000 in 2019. The only thing the government asks is that the students stay in New York for four years after they graduate.

Nice that they ask the students to agree to that stipulation, rather than, say, forcing them to take the agreement whether they want it or not.

Of course, Mr. Cuomo and his ilk don’t ask the taxpayers if they want to participate in the plan. They will pay or they will be fined, or see their homes taken by the government, and, should they resist further, they will be arrested.

Kind of makes the “Excelsior Plan” a little less appealing, so forget you read that.

One wonders what would happen if Mr. Cuomo and the gang in the N.Y. legislature passed a law mandating that all college students go to work instead, and that their earnings be given to people out of college to pay for their home loans, or their car loans, or for them to take some time off from work to take “adult learning” classes or gun marksmanship courses?

Forget that last idea, too. This is New York, so the government doesn’t allow many residents to exercise their right to keep and bear arms for self-defense.

Beyond the moral question of forcing some to pay for the education of others, Cuomo’s plan presents some pretty hefty economic problems as well. For example, U.S. government loans and subsidized state colleges have inspired a massive demand for undergraduate and graduate degrees, watering down college quality and driving teaching, administrative, book, and housing prices through the roof.

Adding more subsidies to this mix by providing government-paid tuition will only exacerbate the cost spiral...along with something else. As Rick Seltzer writes for InsideHigherEd, even though demand for private college education has been artificially inflated by government policies, the folks who run private colleges are concerned that demand will now be shifted away from their schools and toward government-run institutions.

The program poses a significant challenge for New York’s many small private institutions, which suddenly find themselves facing a new kind of competition and increasing inter-sector warfare in the state.

So the market, already screwed up by government intervention, has to prepare for even more meddling. But for leftists, Cuomo’s curious plan doesn’t go far enough. Lydia O’Connor expressed the concern of The Huffington Post when she wrote that the “free tuition” doesn’t cover enough students from “low-income” families. The plan is a “last dollar” program, a technical-sounding euphemism meaning it’s targeted towards “middle class” families who can’t get Pell Grants to cover every last penny of the college cost. She explains:

To Cuomo’s credit, he has always been clear that the Excelsior Scholarship is designed to help middle-class families too wealthy to qualify for federal and state aid but not wealthy enough to afford the cost of college. 

Evidently, the questionable ethics of forcing some people to pay for the educations of others is lost on Ms. O’Connor. She wants to give credit to Mr. Cuomo and the N.Y. politicians for their idea, even if it doesn’t go as far as she wishes. Evidently, it indicates that “New York cares” about college education.

But how can politicians voting to make other people pay for the college experiences of young people mean that anyone cares? At no point in the payment scheme is anyone voluntarily ponying up any charitable donation. At no point is anyone actually showing he or she cares by offering his or her own money.

The entire paradigm of the “Excelsior” program is predicated on force.