April 10 (UPI) -- New York became the first state to waive college tuition for middle-class students with the passage of a bill in its Senate.
Under a plan first introduced in January by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, undergraduate students at State University of New York or City University of New York schools will be eligible for the Excelsior Scholarship if their families earn less than $100,000 a year. By 2019, the income cap will be raised to $125,000. The law will be phased in beginning in September.
The legislation is part of the state's annual budget bill, and was passed Saturday by the state Assembly and Sunday by the Senate, and will go to Cuomo, a Democrat, for his signature. His office estimated 200,000 students will be affected by the law once it is fully operational.
The bill comes with some provisions: It excludes part-time students, room and board, and other fees. The legislation provides $8 million to promote online educational resources. Students benefiting from the bill are expected to live and work in the state for a number of years equal to their time spent in college. If students leave the state, the scholarships become student loans.
State four-year schools in New York cost $6,470 per year to attend, with community colleges costing $4,350 per year. The bill offers students at private colleges $3,000 per year in tuition relief if the grants are matched by the schools, as well as a $19 million fund to create a new financial assistance program for state residents attending private schools within the state. Some Republican legislators were critical of the bill for excluding private college students.
"Today, college is what high school was -- it should always be an option even if you can't afford it," Cuomo said in a statement.
The concept of a free college education was a prominent issue in debates between Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., in 2016. Sanders has since introduced a national version of the New York bill in the Senate.