Since Obama’s proposal that the federal government and states enter into a partnership to make the first two years of community college free, there’s been a lot of ink spilled discussing the plan and debating its merits. But one consequence of the announcement is deserving of more attention than it’s received so far — the effect it’s having on higher education debates on the state level.
Take my home state of New York, for example. Here, the two weeks since Obama’s reveal have seen pols launch no fewer than three different plans to dramatically boost economic access to public higher education. Of the three, two can be fairly described as free higher ed plans. Let’s take a look:
- A proposal from New York City council member Ben Kallos would commit the city to paying off ten percent of any CUNY graduate’s college loans for every year they stayed in the city. After ten years, the full debt would be retired at no cost to the student.
- Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams wants to go further, faster — he’s suggesting that the city beat Obama to the punch by eliminating tuition at CUNY’s community colleges completely. No federal legislation required, no two-year limit, no hoops of grades or enrollment, just free CUNY community college for all.
- In his State of the State speech yesterday, Andrew Cuomo proposed a model for means-and-residency-tested loan forgiveness statewide. Under his “Get on Your Feet Loan Forgiveness” plan, CUNY and SUNY grads who stayed in-state and whose income fell below $50,000 a year would have their first two years of loan payments absorbed by the state.
None of these proposals is going to be implemented tomorrow, and even Cuomo’s — the least ambitious and most likely to see enactment — took a huge, unexpected hit with the federal indictment of the state legislature’s most powerful Democrat this morning. But the near-simultaneous emergence of the three plans reflects the shift in the national discussion wrought by Obama’s announcement and the new territory for legislation and organizing that’s opening up. (One of the three plans — Cuomo’s — technically pre-dates Obama’s, but though it was first mooted in October it received virtually no attention and no public push at the time. Post-Obama it got a big writeup in the Times and prominent placement in the SotS.)