Think Twice Before Choosing “Free” Tuition

Now that “free college tuition” has become the liberal cause célèbre, a number of states are contemplating joining New York as among the first to implement state-wide programs in their public colleges. But New York’s newly enacted program is hardly a model for other states to follow. In fact, if you are thinking about attending college and are tempted to take advantage of New York State’s new “free tuition” program, you may want to pay very close attention to the facts.

First, students who opt for the state plan will be subject to a number of burdensome restrictions. They will be required to maintain 30 credit hours a year, earn a grade point average sufficient for on-time graduation, and agree to live and work in New York upon graduation for as many as four years. Failure to maintain 30 credits will make the student ineligible for future payments, and failure to reside in the state will convert the grant into a loan (and the terms of such loans have not been determined yet).

What’s more, the state has made no guarantee that every eligible student will in fact receive this benefit. The state has allocated funding for only about three percent of the eligible population of college students. This means that most eligible students will not receive the benefit. And, of course, state college fees and room and board expenses are notoriously expensive and are not covered by the new grant.

An old adage sums it up concisely: If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Or perhaps I was thinking of another familiar saying, “There’s no such thing as a free lunch.”

In contrast to the uncertainty and onerous restrictions attached to the so-called “free tuition” plan, most private colleges in New York offer affordable tuition, generous financial aid packages, and a great deal of flexibility for students to fashion their own academic programs at a pace that suits them individually.

For example, at my own institution, Daemen College in Amherst, New York, over 95% of students receive financial aid, and the college imposes no burdensome restrictions on the aid. You can choose how many courses you enroll in each semester, work toward graduation at your own pace, and live wherever you choose after graduation--and you will be studying in a safe, nurturing community with academic and career success at its core.

This level of flexibility is valuable, especially to students who need to work while attending college or who have considerable family obligations. You can expect the same treatment at most private colleges in the state, including guaranteed classes in your major, small class sizes, and personalized attention from advisors and faculty. Also, the quality of instruction in New York’s private colleges is first rate.

So, if you are considering attending college, it pays to examine all options carefully. Remember, you get what you pay for.

Note: An earlier version of this column appeared in the Buffalo News.

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