New York becomes first state to offer free 4-year college for middle class

NEW YORK CITY - MARCH 2 2016: Hillary Clinton affirmed her status as front-runner for the Democratic presidential nominations with a speech at Jacob Javits Center. NY governor Andrew Cuomo

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You now have a new reason to move to the Big Apple.

New York is officially the first and only state in the U.S. to cover four-year public college tuition for residents.

New York’s Excelsior Scholarship program will cover tuition for students from families that make less than $100,000 a year. The income cap will be raised incrementally over the next three years, to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019.

State lawmakers agreed to include the tuition-free plan, which Gov. Andrew Cuomo introduced in January, in the state budget they approved late Sunday night. The budget includes a record $7.5 billion for higher education.

“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 parents can’t afford it,” Cuomo said in a statement on Saturday. “With this program, every child will have the opportunity that education provides.”

Students must be enrolled full-time with at least 30 credits per year in order to qualify, and they are expected to cover housing costs. After students graduate, they are expected to live and work in New York for the same number of years funding was accepted. If students choose to leave the state, the scholarship would immediately convert into a loan.

Scholarship funds are accounting for other federal and state grants. More than 50 percent of students at State University of New York (SUNY) and City University of New York (CUNY) colleges are already paying nothing for tuition with state and federal need-based grants. Those students would not be eligible for the scholarship.

Private school students from families making under the income cap would also benefit. Eligible students would get a maximum of $3,000.

Tennessee, Oregon, and Minnesota already have tuition free for two-year colleges, but New York is the first to extend coverage to four-year colleges. This comes just a week after Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) introduced the College For All Act in efforts to make tuition-free college an option for students across the U.S.

Nidia Cavazos

Nidia Cavazos

Nidia Cavazos is a multimedia journalist with an emphasis on political reporting. She's contributed to Univision, KXAN, and USA Today College, and she was named one of six NBC Fellows by the National Association of Hispanic Journalists in 2017.