New York state recently passed legislation making it “free” to attend two and four-year state colleges. It’s so free, it’s estimated to cost New York state taxpayers a paltry $163 million per year.

Called a “last-dollar” plan, would-be participants must first apply for federal monies before turning to the state for assistance. This ‘free tuition’ only covers half the cost of attending school and doesn’t cover incidentals like books, fees, or housing. Oh, and participants must finish school on time.

Despite being touted as free, this thing comes with a ridiculous amount of strings attached, including a provision requiring scholarship recipients to remain and work in New York for years after completing their degree. Get an associate’s degree and you’ll only have to stay in New York two years post-college. Go for a bachelor’s and you’re stuck in New York for four years. Leave before your period of indentured servitude state-mandated New York time is up and the scholarship magically turns into a loan which must be paid back.

How the state of New York plans to expand their bureaucracy to monitor scholarship recipients for years after graduating has yet to be discussed. Maybe they’ll create something akin to parole officers, but for college grads, because that’s essentially how this scholarship is written.

Let’s just pretend Suzy score’s employment after finishing her degree. She’s doing well, two years later, the company opens an office in Maryland and decides to transfer Suzy. What does Suzy do? Take an opportunity to advance her career, that is after all, what she worked for during school, or be on the hook for four years of back tuition. Sure, Suzy could’ve just paid for college on her own, but the point is that legislation touted as helping a population previously unable to access afforable higher education puts them in more of a bind.

Nothing about this program is free, or practical, or even workable. But it is illustrative of bureaucracy working at its finest.

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