ALBANY, NY – An agreement reached late Friday night on New York State’s fiscal 2018 budget includes Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s proposal for free tuition at state colleges and universities for students whose families earn up to $125,000. The budget covers the state’s fiscal 2018 year, which began April 1, 2017.

“By making college at our world-class public universities tuition-free, we have established a national model for access to higher education, and achieved another New York first,” Cuomo said in a news release issued shortly after he and legislative leaders reached the budget agreement.

The program, called the Excelsior Scholarship, will fill the gap between the cost of tuition and other state and federal aid students are receiving. It will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

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To be eligible, students must be enrolled in college full time, take an average of 30 credits each year and complete their degrees on-time. The program includes provisions to allow students to pause and restart their studies if they encounter hardships.

In a news conference following the agreement, Cuomo said, “We have the nation’s first accessible public college program, which is a national first. It is exploratory. It’s a different model. It says what we thought of high school 50 years ago, is the way you should think of college now. Why do we have free public high school? Because we made the determination as society that you needed high school. You needed it to succeed and you needed it as a society agreement.”

He continued, “You want to talk about a difference government can make? This is the difference that government can make. There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because mommy and daddy can’t afford it. Every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

After the governor proposed Excelsior in January, reaction in the Greater Olean area was mixed.

Olean Mayor William J. Aiello issued a news release commending the proposal.

“In today’s competitive global economy, a college education is essential for young men and women to secure a career, make a decent living, and provide a quality life for their families,” Aiello said. “With tuition costs growing exponentially every year, it has become nearly impossible for New York’s middle-class families to make ends meet at home, while sending their children to college.”

St. Bonaventure University, like most private colleges, opposed the proposal.

In a resolution passed unanimously at its March board meeting, the university’s Board of Trustees called upon the New York State Legislature to expand tuition assistance for all students rather than endorse supplemental financial aid only for those attending SUNY or CUNY schools.

“We share the goal of making college more affordable for more New York state students, but we don’t want to see student choice eliminated from the equation,” said Dr. Andrew Roth, the school’s interim president. “Expanding TAP gives them the freedom to choose which institution – private or public -- is the best fit for them.”

According to a university news release, St. Bonaventure had a $141 million impact on the region’s economy in 2015.