By Mayra DiRico
Queens County is home to 13 universities, trade schools, and community colleges. As the most diverse borough in the country, we speak over 150 languages, with 48 percent of the students in Queens universities being foreign-born. Take a look at the ethnic composition of two CUNY schools, Queens College and York College, which illustrate that diversity.
With such profound statistics as those above, the question beckons: Where are these students going after college graduation? As the economic engine of the borough, one of the goals and vision of the Queens Chamber is to help make sure these students not only stay in Queens after graduation, but have available jobs enabling them to use their talents near the university they graduated from.
We are excited to share that the city and state provision to Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “Excelsior Scholarship Plan” supports our vision. To those unfamiliar, this “free tuition plan” is available to college students with family incomes of less than $100,000 once they have been accepted to any CUNY or SUNY campus. This is an enormous help to students seeking higher education who do not come from significant financial means.
Specifically, under Governor Cuomo’s plan, a student may be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship if he or she meets five criteria:
• Is an undergraduate who is a U.S. citizen or eligible noncitizen;
• Resides in New York State for one year prior to enrollment;
• Has a family adjusted gross income that does not exceed $100,000;
• Completes thirty credits per year; and
• Maintains a minimum grade-point average to qualify.
However, this comes with an important caveat. Under a provision that was added to the tuition bill at the last moment, students who qualify for and receive free tuition at CUNY and SUNY schools must live and work in New York State for up to four years after graduation, or be forced to pay the money back.
For policy reasons and at first glance, this provision is solid: Students should be required, at least for a certain duration of time, to contribute to the economy of the state which has provided them with a free education. However, what if the student is not immediately employed in the state of New York following graduation? We all know how difficult it is to get a job in New York City to begin with, so should we realistically tell a recent grad to turn down a meaningful offer in New Jersey if he or she is unable to secure employment in New York State? These questions will undoubtedly be answered as this program is implemented.
While there are certainly many considerations for students to consider when making the decision to stay in New York City, the city must make a more concerted effort to help our students get jobs. Yes, we are arguably the most competitive city in the country, but if we are incentivizing students to be educated and work in the city, we need to be sure the jobs are available and that students know how to find them.
The Queens Chamber of Commerce applauds the initiatives set forth by the city and state, and will passionately be the liaison between universities and the work market to bridge that gap.