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Cuomo announces plan for free in-state tuition

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Sen. Bernie Sanders appeared with Gov. Andrew Cuomo at LaGuardia Community College in Queens to present the governor's plan for free state college tuition.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) wants free college tuition for students in families making less than $125,000 a year. At an estimated cost of $163 million a year, the program would triple state funding for higher education. But the plan may not reach as many students as the governor claims.

Cuomo offered few details on the plan, which would require support from the state legislature. Cuomo says as many as 940,000 households would be eligible and that the plan would be phased in over three years, offering tuition "to a state two-year school or a four-year school, if you come from any family earning $125,000 or less, the state will provide free tuition."

Right now several states offer free tuition to community colleges and technical schools, but none pay for college or university tuition.

Tuition is only part of the cost of college. Living expenses account for one-half to three-quarters of the cost, according to Sandy Baum, who studies education costs at the Urban Institute.

Baum says Cuomo's program won't send more kids to college.

"Because what's most important for college access is increasing the amount of funding available to low and moderate students, who already have their tuition paid for at public colleges through state and federal grants, but really struggle with their living expenses," said Baum.

Baum calls Cuomo's program an expensive subsidy for middle-class families who already send their kids to college. Cuomo, who is occasionally rumored to have presidential ambitions, made his announcement with former presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (D-VT) at his side. Sanders galvanized younger voters in last year's election with promises of free college tuition.

Charles is senior reporter focusing on special projects. He has won numerous awards including an IRE award, three SPJ Public Service Awards, a National Murrow, and he was a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists.