Students whose families earn less than $125,000 a year will be eligible for free tuition through the new Excelsior Scholarship at any state or city university starting this fall.
"College is a mandatory step if you really want to be a success," Cuomo said during a press conference. "This society should say 'If you need college, we're going to pay for college because you should be successful.' New York State is going to do something about it ... It should be a wake up call to this nation."
The Excelsior Scholarship will supplement current state and federal loan and grant programs. Cuomo's administration estimates about 1 million New York families could benefit from the program if approved. The plan is expected to cost about $163 million when fully implemented by 2019.
Sanders, who campaigned for the U.S. presidency as an advocate for free tuition, was at the LaGuardia Community College in Queens to support Cuomo's program.
"If we are going to do justice to the working families of this country, to the low-income families, if we are going to have an economy that creates jobs... we must have the best educated workforce in the world," Sanders said. "Our job is to encourage every person in this country to get all of the education he or she can, not to punish them for getting that education."