Facing Pushback, Cuomo Pitches Tuition-Free College at Buffalo State

BUFFALO, N.Y. -- The governor is staging his fight for free public college in New York on home turf.

"Now it's, the top floor is a college education and no one is going to be deprived of college because they cannot afford it," Gov. Andrew Cuomo, D-New York, said.

He rallied Tuesday afternoon at SUNY Buffalo State. Many of the students there stand to benefit from his proposal for free tuition for families within the income cap.

"I hope that they see the amount of students and see how invested and how much the college students care," sophomore Nigel Peters said.

Buff State President Katherine Conway-Turner said while she'd still like to see more details, she plans to support the proposal when she speaks with legislators.

"We need to really make this happen," Conway-Turner said. "We have students that really are not able to complete a college education because of resources and the Excelsior Scholarship helps them to close the gap.

She does believe the plan will drive new students to her institution, which creates some concerns about housing capacity.

"That's a real tension that we have but commuter students, we certainly are prepared tomorrow to bring on new commuter students," she said.

Say Yes Buffalo, meanwhile, already provides scholarships through public and private funding so city students can go to New York's public colleges and many private partners tuition free. The Buffalo Billion Phase II commits another $10 million to the organization. Executive director David Rust said if the Excelsior Scholarship program is passed, that money could go even farther.

"Potentially it would give us flexibility in the dollars that we're able to use and I think we would make that decision with our board, but we would hope to look at supporting students that have the most need," Rust said.

He said, in five years with Say Yes, the graduation rate in Buffalo has increased 15 percent and high school graduates enrolling in college is up ten percent.

"There's no doubt that this tuition incentive can have a significant impact on your community," Rust said.

He noted, organizations like his that provide support services, will be more important than ever because for Cuomo's plan to work, students need to be college-ready.

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