The Community Wonders: What Could the Tuition-Free Program Bring to the Table?

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The Excelsior Scholarship Program, New York State’s ambitious plan to grant free tuition to students from households making under $125,000 per year, has enjoyed a positive reception among students, faculty and the Flatbush community alike thus far.

Across campus, not one student expressed an overall negative feeling toward the program. “It’s been a long time coming, and I’m glad it’s finally here,” said a computer science major in the lobby of Ingersoll. The mandate that students remain in New York State after their education for as many years as they received free tuition did not seem to bother many. “Where else would I go?” asked one student in the Boylan Hall cafeteria. One student, however, wondered how this might impact her choice of graduate school.

Reactions were similarly optimistic along Flatbush and Nostrand avenues. A worker in an incense shop along Flatbush Avenue, himself a current computer science major within a two-year program in the CUNY system, stressed the importance of an educated populace and expressed excitement over its immediate benefits to him. “I won’t have to interrupt my education now,” he said. “I’ll go straight on to City College.”

Businesses too, expressed a positive outlook on the program. “If more people can afford to go to college, that’s more customers for me,” said a fruit-seller on Avenue H. “Hopefully, they’ll be able to afford some fruit too.” A worker at a juice bar, similarly, called it a “win-win” situation for his business. “Maybe I’ll even enroll myself,” he said. Kenneth Mbonu, executive director of the Flatbush Nostrand-Junction Business Improvement District, outlined an optimistic vision in which his proposed boulevard-style entrance to Brooklyn College along Hillel Place along with the free tuition plan would strengthen Brooklyn College’s already-strong connection to the neighborhood.

However, some expressed cynicism over the plan’s effectiveness in addressing inequality. An elderly man waiting for the B39 wondered how effective increasing college’s economic accessibility might be, when, according to him, students are being failed at a much earlier age. “We’ll see a slight increase in the number of students,” he said. “But at the income where free tuition really matters, this plan doesn’t do much.”

Echoing this sentiment, students who identified themselves as coming from low-income backgrounds openly wondered about who the plan’s greatest beneficiaries might be. “A family making $50,000 a year with two or three kids to send to college might benefit,” said one student, shrugging his shoulders.

Furthermore, some expressed cynicism over the college’s relations, present and future, with its neighboring areas beyond Flatbush. “It could change a lot around the college, but if you look down that way…” said one pedestrian, pointing south down Nostrand Avenue, “…I don’t think it’s going to do much for anyone.”

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