Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that New York would have the first accessible college program, known as the Excelsior Scholarship. It would provide free tuition to New York State residents to any two or four-year programs at any SUNY or CUNY school for individuals and families whose income does not exceed $125,000 per year. However, the program is not available for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) recipients or undocumented students. In order to qualify, the student must be a citizen, a resident, or a refugee.
“But the Governor should set the bar higher – and ensure that all of New York’s immigrant families and students are included in this proposal, including undocumented New Yorkers. Many of the over 8,300 undocumented students in CUNY and SUNY schools – New Yorkers, graduates of our high schools who seek higher education – are shut out of their college dreams simply because of financial barriers due to immigration status. Thousands more do not even attempt to access a college education because of these affordability barriers,” said Steven Choi, executive director of the New York Immigration Coalition.
“Undocumented students are the group with the least access to financial and educational opportunities,” Elizabeth Sánchez, a political science student in Brooklyn told Diario de Mexico. “We are the future too, and we too have dreams. It is frustrating to see my parents fighting each day to pay the rent and the bills. At my house, everyone works, but it’s as if all that effort did not amount to anything when decisions are taken in Albany.”
While this initiative will help many middle class students and their families across New York, it overlooks the populations that would benefit most from tuition-free education. Loans and scholarship opportunities are scarce for DACA and undocumented students. Immigrants, low-income students and people of color are often obligated to work full-time and attend college part-time in order to afford tuition and their livelihood. However, under the Excelsior Scholarship program, only full-time students are eligible, and the program must be completed in four years. This means that these students will miss out on this crucial program, though hopefully the program will be amended to include aid for those who cannot attend school full-time.