Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Tuesday proposed a path to free state college tuition for hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income students, raising hopes for Long Island parents whose children could otherwise face hefty student loans.
Cuomo called attention to the growing burden of student debt as he introduced the plan Tuesday at LaGuardia Community College, comparing educational loans to “starting a race with an anchor tied to your leg.”
Linda Vetter, 50, of Babylon, worries about being able to afford her daughter’s college tuition and said the proposed aid would be a “blessing.”
“She wants to accomplish so much and, with the price of college, it seems like she will not get the proper education,” she said. “It would be a godsend. . . . I could give her the world.”
The Excelsior Scholarship college degree program would waive the cost of SUNY and CUNY tuition for students whose families earn up to $100,00, starting this fall. By 2019, the income threshold would rise to $125,000 annually.
In New York State, student loan debt more than doubled over the past decade, according to the state comptroller’s office. Borrowers on Long Island owed an average of $33,900 as of 2015, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Newsday asked readers to share how their student loans have affected them and their families. For some, student loans are holding them back from being able to buy a home, while others say they live paycheck to paycheck because of their debt or their children’s college costs.
Here are some of their responses:
Courtney Bergen, 27, of Bay Shore
After graduating with a master’s degree in social work in May, Bergen will owe nearly $100,000 in student loans. Bergen wrote she worries how her debt will affect her ability to obtain a mortgage and start a family on Long Island.
“I want to look forward to things like purchasing a home and starting a family, however, I have little hope,” Bergen wrote. “I have no idea how I am going to pay off my student loan debt while beginning my journey as a social worker and trying to start a family on Long Island.”
Nicole Driscoll, 25, of Farmingville
After earning a master’s degree, Driscoll is struggling to find work and suffers from “constant anxiety” over her debt.
“If I knew what a financial strain it would cause as I got older, I think I would have worked to try and save before just diving into college,” Driscoll wrote.
Chris Dyer, 54, of Rocky Point
Some Long Islanders are trying to prepare for their children’s high college costs.
By consistently putting away money in a 529 college saving fund, Dyer — who says he and his wife have made between $40,000 to $90,000 annually since 1985 — was able to save $23,000 for his son’s tuition.
“It was hard passing up on vacations and other luxuries, but we managed,” Dyer wrote.
Sean McLeod, 33, of North Babylon
With his student debt racking up after earning an associate’s, bachelor’s and law degrees, McLeod, who wants to be a public defender, said his budget is tight.
“As a result of the mortgage-like payments required of me on a monthly basis, it is unlikely I will be able to afford the down payment for — or monthly payments on — a home, ever own a new vehicle, travel outside of the country or even look forward to no longer living ‘paycheck-to-paycheck,’ ” McLeod wrote.