For high school seniors and their families, choosing a college has become a lot like shopping for a new car — except that haggling isn’t allowed, and financing is more specifically “financial aid,” in the form of subsidized, unsubsidized or private student loans.
That has led to $1.1 trillion in student debt, 90 percent of which is federal student loans, according to the U.S. Department of Education. And that doesn’t include private student loans, which come with higher interest rates.
Most of the costs of college, at least in the City University of New York and State University of New York systems, are tuition and related fees. At Lehman College, a City University of New York school, full-time undergraduate tuition is $7,070 per year for state residents and $17,280 for those from out of state. At Manhattan College, a private school in Riverdale, full-time tuition for undergraduates is $50,340 per year for students who commute, and $69,080 for those who live on campus.
When it comes to committing to a college, there really is no guarantee of the quality of the education. Sure, you can look at the list of alumni and see where they got jobs, but is there really a way to gauge how good an education they received?
Enter Gov. Kathy Hochul, and a proposal she made in her State of the State address last week. Among the many programs on Hochul’s wish list was a way to “extend opportunity for our students.” Specifically, she has proposed major initiatives for CUNY and State University of New York schools. Both school systems are funded by New York state.
“To ensure that more of New York’s home-grown, high-achieving students attend our outstanding public colleges, Governor Hochul is launching an ambitious plan to offer direct admission to the top graduates in every high school to New York’s public higher education system,” a synopsis of her address read. She wants to allow the automatic admission of students in the top 10 percent of their high school classes into CUNY and SUNY schools.
“There is substantial evidence that high-achieving, low-income students apply to, and end up attending, less selective postsecondary institutions at higher rates than their higher-income peers,” Hochul said. “Several states, including Texas, California and Idaho, already offer direct admissions, and have found that this policy advances equity in their university systems.”
In addition, Hochul wants to make the Free Application for Free Student Aid program mandatory and universal at state high schools. A major reason to do this, she says, is because 53 percent of SUNY’s full-time resident students graduate without having to pay out of pocket for tuition state and federal financial aid are applied, and nearly half graduate with no federal debt. At CUNY, as many as 66 percent of those students also don’t have to pay out of pocket after taking advantage of state financial aid programs and scholarships and federal financial aid.
Hochul’s plan should be a no-brainer for low- and even middle-income students and their families, because CUNY and SUNY schools have proven to be a bargain when it comes to quality postsecondary education. According to U.S. News & World Report’s 2024 rankings, CUNY schools as a whole, are tied for 51st among public colleges nationally, and three SUNY schools made the list of the top 100 national universities: Stony Brook (58), Binghamton (73) and Buffalo (76).
While schools like the Ivies and the NYUs may be attractive to high-achieving students, they may not give those students the best bang for their buck or the best preparation for their future. A public college education in New York City and state universities continues to be among the best bargains to be found.
And now the governor may give high school students another reason to choose those universities with her plan for direct admission. For those families who can’t afford the more expensive colleges and universities, CUNY and SUNY are the way to go.