This month, the New York State Legislature made the state the first in the nation to make tuition at the state's public colleges and universities free for many full-time undergraduates from families with income under $100,000 per year. The cutoff will rise soon to $125,000.
For all the program's limitations — including the requirement to live and work in the state after graduation — the most immediate response came from jealous families elsewhere who want their own states to step up. They may be waiting a
Still, free tuition does not solve every family's financial challenge. Qualifying families in New York may still need to cover more than $50,000 over four years for fees,
The Institute for College Access and Success reported this week that schools generally are still asking families with the lowest incomes to pay a higher percentage of their incomes toward college than any other groups do.
There is another, very particular group of families that suffer at this time of year, too — people near and dear to my heart (and those of my colleagues). They are New York Times subscribers, people with median household incomes of $99,000 (digital) and $167,000 (print), and others like them.
Nobody sympathizes with them much, and they do not ask for you to do so. But hear them out — as I do in ever larger numbers each year around this time.
All week long, I spoke to them: at midnight as they worried aloud about the aid offers yet again; and at sunrise when I emailed them with thoughts and suggestions. A word cloud of their emotions about the system of paying for college would include large-font renderings of terms like "disillusioned" and "bewildered" and "disbelief."
Their own parents had sacrificed and sent them to the best colleges they could get into. Or, they had worked their way through school mostly on their own. But as this month winds to a close, they and their children still found themselves haggling for more aid based on their income, assets or academic accomplishments.
Many of the teenagers are disappointed: Yes, they got in — often by putting in the biggest efforts of their young lives — but no, they may not be able to afford to go to their dream schools after all. And as the deadline to make a choice nears, many families find themselves asking complex questions about whether they should pay five figures more per year — and six figures more over four years — to reach for a first-choice college that simply will not discount any further.
Families with five-figure incomes sometimes do quite well when it comes to financial aid, especially if their children are particularly bright or their schools are particularly flush. It also helps if a family has more than one child going to college at the same time.