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Snap Poll: Readers pan Cuomo’s tuition proposal

Most respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll give a thumbs down to the first “signature proposal” of Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s 2017 agenda: making college tuition-free for New Yorkers from middle-class families at all public two- and four-year colleges in the state.

Cuomo said more than 940,000 families and individuals making up to $125,000 a year would qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship. The program would require participating students to be enrolled full-time at a SUNY or CUNY college.

The governor said the program, which needs legislative approval, would be phased in over three years. He estimated the cost to taxpayers at $163 million a year once the program is fully phased in.

Currently, annual tuition at SUNY schools—which averages $6,470 to $6,330—is among the lowest in the nation. But it has increased in recent years, and the governor’s new budget plan would allow SUNY schools to hike annual tuition by up to $250. The Excelsior Scholarship would apply to tuition costs not covered by the state’s Tuition Assistance Program or federal grants.

Supporters say Cuomo’s plan would make college affordable for all students and families statewide. Critics, however, question the cost estimates and say the program could undermine private colleges in New York.

More than 950 readers took part in this week’s poll, which was conducted Jan. 23 and 24.

Do you support or oppose Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s tuition-free Excelsior Scholarship proposal?

Support 24%
Oppose 76%

For information on how the Snap Polls are conducted, click here. To participate in the weekly RBJ Snap Poll, sign up for the Daily Report at


I am opposed to this for two reasons. First, it is not affordable and is unreasonable for N.Y. tax payers to pick up the cost of this. Just another burden on New Yorkers that we cannot afford. Secondly, it does nothing to help with the trades. There are jobs going unfilled due to lack of applicants with the required job skills—skills that could be acquired at trade schools for much less than SUNY schools cost. These are good-paying jobs with good benefits.
—Ken Johnson,
Leonard’s Express Inc.

This scholarship almost seems appealing, especially since I have a freshman in college. However, the bottom line is I would still be paying for this scholarship in tax money. In fact, I would be paying twice, since my child chose an out-of-state private college that better matched her major and offered more 1:1 staff attention and better post-college opportunities. I see this going the way of our public school districts: tons of money pours in with no real results. In fact, it may instead contribute to the decline in quality of the state college system.
—Tabitha McGurk

My father always said, if you are getting something for free, you don’t place a value on it. Quality education is essential for the growth and future of our nation. We need everyone to be well-educated and able to apply their talents for their community to prosper. I have used NYS public colleges for my children with great success. I am a huge supporter of these schools. However, I believe that every family and student should have some “skin in the game” so they place value on the time commitment and rigor needed to obtain that great education and are motivated to succeed. I support the idea of a shared expense whereby the state incrementally offsets the tuition cost for those who are income-qualified. But, I would never give this gift away for free. It is too precious.
—David Beinetti, SWBR Architects

The math doesn’t work—32,000 families, 1 student equals $200 million per year of free tuition. 32,000 families are not all of the families in New York, let alone the families with college-age children.
—Gary Wood

Let’s focus on growing the job market, and giving those who are not “college students” a chance. There should be grants and (dollars) available for people to attend degree and non-degree trade programs. We need less “(fill in the blank) culture studies” and more electricians, technicians and plumbers. There is no shame in not having a degree. Let’s bring pride back to the trades.
—Matt Connolly

The dirty little secret is that someone will have to pay the bill. The professors will not be working gratis, and the power company will not keep the light and heat on to be good altruistic citizens. New Yorkers are already taxed to ruin and adding this burden so Governor Cuomo can play Santa Claus will not help. The minimum wage will have driven entry-level jobs from the state and new taxes will accelerate the decline. A motivated student is one who earned the money and has his/her own skin in the game. The new student will just be extending high school. Institutions of higher learning should control their costs to remain a competitive option for students’ money. With this new law, their income and growth will be guaranteed without improving the product or managing the value to the market. I really liked Andrew Cuomo when he was first in office but now believe that he is seriously deluded into thinking that his unsustainable largess is leadership. Wealth is mobile, and Governor Cuomo will recognize that fact as the drivers of prosperity accelerate their exodus.
—Kreag Cotter

I’m all in favor of need-based free tuition at the college level. However, a sliding scale based on income would be more equitable than an “all or nothing” based on a certain income level, and any plan should factor in a family’s assets, not just income.
—Thomas E. Schnorr, president, RE/MAX Realty Group

Another socialist-state proposal vs. individual and personal responsibility—liberty! What do you think-believe-act?
—John L. Sackett Jr., Sackett Farms

How do we expect the youth of today to learn the value of education and even the dollar if it’s free? The only possible way I could even consider this would be if the students had to maintain a minimum GPA and if they failed to do so or dropped out of school they would need to pay the tuition.
—M. Wahl

This proposal is consistent with the intent of the founders of what we now know as SUNY and CUNY.
—Nathan J. Robfogel

Access to affordable education is an investment in our future.
—Chris L. DeCorte, Spezio Property Services Inc.

The idea that everyone needs four years of college requires fact-checking. There are a number of good STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) careers available that do not require four years of college. A significant number of college-educated individuals are considered “underemployed” because there are not enough jobs available that require a four-year education. The fact that a college is willing to give you a bachelor’s degree in Scatalogical Poetry doesn’t ensure you a high-paying career. I believe this is just a ploy to divert attention from the fact that over 60 percent of community college students nationwide require remedial math classes. Fix P-12 education first.
—Jim VanKouwenberg, Optimax Systems

Gee, I wonder where does this free money come from? What a scam trying to buy votes already!
—Mike Masters

Didn’t take him long to start running for president in 2020. He’ll also be able to say that he runs the highest-taxed state and one of the few that is losing population. I wonder if he will ever realize New York State is not the entire country.
—Frank DeCiantis

When my wife and I met at SUNY Buffalo in 1968 the cost was $200 per semester thanks to Nelson Rockefeller. I think if the student has the ability and the family does not have the income, everyone should go for free, The current system of massive loans and high tuition rates is out of control. Something needs to be done and it needs to be done now.
—Peter Bonenfant, Fairport

So it will cost the taxpayers $163 million, so how can it be called tuition-free? Guess what, I already paid for my two kids’ college educations and they also took out loans to have skin in the game. There are no free lunches—ever. I paid for my dependents. Free this, free that—sick of it. Maybe get to the source, “colleges,” to reduce cost. Maybe the money could be better served for our veterans housing, medical, job training as they already served U.S. I am so sick of free but it raises my tax. Time to get out of NYS.
—David Topian, Westminster Real Estate Advisors

The man has lost touch with reality! He is pretty free with taxpayer money. What ever happened to the value of an education and teaching students that it is worth working for? What is Cuomo teaching … how to get another handout. Another loser in office.
—Mark Williams

I think it’s a great idea! In fact, we should transfer all current Jr. and Sr. high school students directly to SUNY colleges asap. At $6,400 a year we would save almost $14,000 per student, since the average cost of a year of K-12 public education now is close to $20,000. And most first year SUNY students spend at least a semester or maybe two doing remedial classes anyway! I wonder if we could get SUNY to run all of our schools for that price?
—George Thomas, Ogden

Instead of paying for college, regardless of the outcome, a program should be created that would motivate students to graduate and become employed in-state. Perhaps instead of paying tuition upfront a program could forgive student loans over several post-graduation years, as long as the recipient remained employed (and thus contributing to the tax base) in New York State.
—Maggie Symington

I support the program but I look for a companion program to keep the young people in the state of New York working to enhance New York’s economy and keep New York’s innovation moving forward.
—Wayne Donner Rush

It makes no sense at all, particularly the upper limit of $125,000. Sounds like just another frantic attempt by the Democrats to buy votes.
—Hal Gaffiin, Fairport

The only way this is getting paid for is by the taxes that I/we pay, and we pay more than enough taxes and surcharges in New York. I will take my retirement to another state that is tax-friendly. New York’s population is shrinking and they wonder why. I love New York but hate the taxes.
—Tom Sweeney

In a state with (likely) the highest overall taxes per capita, where does this free money for tuition come from? And for the student that avails themselves of such a generous government hand-out, what prevents them from leaving NYS with their newly earned degree to build a life in a more tax-friendly state? Wouldn’t this money be better served fixing our crumbling bridges and roads to start with, and maybe even pay down debt? Though well-intentioned liberal programs like the ESP never provide the results sought, they do provide a convenient plank to a platform for a future presidential run by our ambitious governor.
—Paul Hohensee, Webster

State universities are great and this helps working- and middle-class people (the poor not so much as they already have the benefit). If this is a first step, then great. Let’s not forget room, board and fees are a burden for all people making under $125K.
—Brian Kane

There is no reason for this. As stated, SUNY (tuition) is among the lowest in the nation. There are plenty of financial aid alternatives. Giving something for free makes the recipients value it at just what it cost them. It will put a lot of pressure on private institutions. By the way, socialist countries all have free tuition at their state-run universities.
—Jim Cronin

Good grief, this governor makes even a drunken sailor look frugal.
—Steve Wichtowski, Honeoye

The real reason Cuomo is serving up this Socialist nonsense is because he’s revving his political engine for the Democrat ticket for 2020. By offering up “free” tuition is he is at once letting the culprits go free (the colleges) and separating the buyer (students) from the consequences of their actions, so the only winner here is the colleges and Cuomo. The reason college tuition is so high is because colleges suffer absolutely no consequences for their actions to keep raising tuition. How so? Because they have federal and state guarantees that the tuition will be paid by the readers of this column. By the way, what are the top ten endowed colleges going to do with $191 billion of cash?
—Luis A. Martinez, Pittsford

Tuition is already subsidized. NY, while being one of most expensive states in the nation to live in, has one of the lowest state school tuition cost. This is socialism at its best. Thanks, Bernie, go back to Vermont. All taxpayers, old with no children and young with no children, can now pay for those that choose have children.
—Jim Smith

I cannot support Andrew “Santa” Cuomo’s free education program. This is taxpayer money he is spending. If there is to be a “free” education program let the colleges that bring in major bucks from their alumni and other benefactors fund such a program. They have the money. NYS does not. We are the highest taxed state in the country and the worst infrastructure ever and all Cuomo wants to do is spend our money on everything but what really matters. We need more students to be trained in the manufacturing and trades industries (where the job openings are) instead of becoming airheads getting degrees in areas in which there are no jobs available. And if they are going to get anything handed to them by our benevolent state government they need to be taught that they have to earn it. Meaning excellent attendance and grades in high school first, part of a low income family second. All others pay their own way. While I am all for kids getting a good education, I think that the ones who provide for themselves have a greater respect for what they learn and apply themselves more successfully. Those are the kind of people we need in this society—not the ones who take all they can get and give very little to nothing back.
—Grant Osman

He needs to layout the plan in detail of how we are going to pay for this with taxes and accomplish all the other plans he is proposing and not just give us a slick marketing plan.
—John Bartolotto, COL, USA (Ret)

Let’s be reasonable here, Mr. Governor. People need to be responsible for themselves. And, with tuition at $6,500, we have already enabled this to occur. Without any benefit from advanced planning and savings, when students attend the SUNY school closest to home and live at home, they need to work only 15 hours/week at minimum wage to earn their annual tuition. When students pay their share they have skin in the game, they are more responsible and more successful. They learn to be adults. Conversely if we give them college, they have less motivation to be studious and if they graduate, they do so with a feeling of entitlement—a bad way to start.
—Dorver Kendig, Webster

I would definitely support this if it applied to families who make less than $50,000. I believe families making more than that can afford community college. Especially with all the other financial aid available.
—Linda Game

I oppose for one reason: New York State either will not or does not have the capability to derive the actual cost to taxpayers. If you looks at two recent examples of the state’s inability to predict outcomes, look no further than the endlessly botched property tax freeze credit check distribution and the “pay to play” corruption in the economic development policies. They cannot create policies that they are able to administer…PERIOD. The “free tuition” policy would be another example of “big government” is most assuredly not better government, even the idea is certainly reasonable.
—Rob Bick, New York Property Tax Modernization Institute

I must have misheard you … for a second there I thought you said FREE tuition. Nothing about free tuition is free. Taxpayers are going to be fitting the bill for this. No wonder everyone is fleeing the state … already highest taxes in country and now they want to add more. The Leftist experiment is over … let’s get back to reality and fiscal sanity.
—Joe Dattilo

This is absolutely one of the most ridiculous ideas imaginable. We are going to take an area where the state is already bleeding $$ and double-down on it. We are going to FURTHER hurt private schools in the state of NY so that we can have a thriving tertiary education system that will cost us a mere $163M a YEAR. And that is going by the state estimate. When was the last time a government program ever came in on budget?? Thank God he had the good sense to have a socialist on stage with him. I’m sorry a democratic socialist (little secret folks; there is no difference. A socialist is a socialist). How much harder can politicians work to mess up NYS? I’ll give them this, they are innovative and creative in their destruction.
—Kenya Burn-Moore, Rochester

I think it is a good idea. However, it needs a little tweeking. $125,000 is too high. I believe people who make up to $50,000 a year should qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship. Setting the level at $50,000 would allow those truly in need the opportunity to go to college. An income level of $125,000 is counter-productive as those who can afford to pay for college would take advantage of the program leaving no room for those the program is meant for.
—Cynthia Bailey

If the governor wants to destroy most of the private colleges in New York, this is a great way to start. When he is prepared to offer an income tax credit to the families of all of the state’s resident college students, and maybe even include those New Yorkers who go outside the state for college, then his plan will deserve consideration.
—James Leunk

If it will encourage kids to stay off the streets and study or learn a trade I’m all for it. They’ll need to maintain their grades at a certain level or they would lose their benefit.
—Rich Calabrese Jr., Rochester

We need an educated citizenry. This is one very smart way to get people educated and in the work pipeline. I would be proud to have my tax dollars spent on this initiative.
—Eve Elzenga, Eve Elzenga Design

High cost to New York State, qualifying income too high, no incentives to improve disaster condition of the Empire (vampire) State etc.!

This man has lost it.
—Jerry McCabe, Irondequoit

I would only support the $420 million that is budgeted to underwrite the entertainment industry in NYC (“Saturday Night Live” and sitcoms that then in turn help support Cuomo’s political agenda) be moved in the budget to assist full-time SUNY students with tuition, in addition to assisting part-time students, people that are working at least part-time that wish to add to their skill set or sharpen their saw. This is a much better use of taxpayer money and to benefit those with educational needs and desires.
—B. Moser, Canandaigua

Our state obviously needs to lead the way on progressive issues like civil rights, education debt, educating the public, health care and other issues that matter to its citizens, as the federal government attempts to dismantle the very institutions we rely on and take pride in. Lowering overall student debt, attracting young people to come to NYS, and paying back citizens with valuable skills like education all play into a strategy of being the best in the nation. If the right wing wants to flush the rest of the country down the toilet, let’s not swirl with them.
—Lee Drake, CEO, OS-Cubed Inc.

“Free Stuff” progressives (liberals, socialists), will they never learn. There “ain’t no free lunch”! Cuomo says that it will cost only a little over a $100 million, but if you do the math it comes closer to well over $1 billion, even $2 billion! What will we do when the SUNY schools are inundated with new students getting their “free” education? Build more SUNY schools? And what to do with all the new liberal arts graduates with no jobs? Lastly, will the quality of their degrees suffer? Of course, Cuomo will pay for this largess with increased taxes on the 1% and DMV fees.
—Art Elting, Palmyra

Welcome to the first shots in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Bernie Saunders did well running on the platform of free college for all, so Andrew Cuomo picks up the mantle and many other give-aways. I have a novel idea. Just let me keep my own money and spend it the way I want. Can’t you keep your hand out of my pocket?
—Clifford Jacobson, MD; Vanguard Psychiatric Services, PC

I might be a supporter of Cuomo’s proposal if it was presented in the context of how NY can reduce the tax burden it imposes on its citizens. NY’s taxes and regulations have driven away jobs for decades. Yet, the governor’s response is to spend more money on more programs.
—John Calia, Fairport

Nothing is free. This is a gimmick to win votes and further fleece the taxpayers. SUNY schools are already taxpayer subsidized so that they are affordable. In addition community colleges are an exceptional value. Student loans can cover the difference between existing programs for poor and lower income students. Students can also work part-time during the school year and full-time over the summer to defer some cost. No one should get a free ride. Skin in the game provides additional incentive to do well and finish timely.
—Debbie Gleason

1/27/2017 (c) 2017 Rochester Business Journal. To obtain permission to reprint this article, call 585-546-8303 or email

One comment

  1. Government input in education does not improve learning.

    NYS and Rochester have had great programs for vocational training, but budgets were cut, and one local center endured severe cuts. Cuomo could start with supporting what we already had in place.

    We have seen what happened when federal government imposed guidelines for Common Core. Teachers and students obsessed over the tests, and naturally-paced learning was pushed aside.

    When Obama declared new accountability in colleges, using leverage of financial aid, established teachers found themselves with expectations to get new degrees or take on more research. These beyond-lecture, unpaid expectations interfered with lesson planning and responding to students– teaching well.

    Nearly half of college faculty work on part-time contracts; job boards of community colleges (all colleges) tip heavy with adjunct positions. Teachers are already operating without salary and benefits, so where is the state going to scrounge up more funding? Federal funding from the negative 20 trillion? Military and corporations, international research?

    We now see government-initiated programs outsourced to colleges, to manage and implement. If this is the trend, parents and taxpayers should know what they’re paying for.

    Pushing high school students into college delays their ability to work. Some are not interested in the intense study required, and would be better off learning on the job or taking short training programs.

    As others said — inflated ideas from a government in serious debt, are not sustainable.


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