LONG ISLAND CITY — Hillary Clinton joined Gov. Andrew Cuomo in Queens Wednesday to sign the state's new free college tuition bill into law — and the governor credited the former presidential candidate for inspiring the program, which will make CUNY and SUNY colleges tuition-free for qualifying students whose families earn $125,000 or less a year.
The new law, which Cuomo announced alongside U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders in January, will be called the Excelsior Scholarship and was included in the $153.1 billion state budget that lawmakers passed on Friday.
"That will make this place a better place and this scholarship program is going to transform lives," Cuomo said at the bill-signing event at LaGuardia Community College, where Clinton joined him on stage.
He credited the former secretary of state for first conceiving of the program — and said he got the idea after hearing Clinton propose free state college tuition while on the campaign trail last year.
"The inspiration for the idea came from a woman who I know very, very well, who I spent eight years with in Washington," Cuomo said.
The Excelsior Scholarship will be phased in over the next three years. Starting this fall, it will offer free tuition for qualifying SUNY or CUNY students whose families make up to $100,000 a year, with that amount increasing to $110,000 in 2018 and $125,000 in 2019.
"I cannot tell you adequately how thrilled I was when the governor, as you heard him say, took this idea and said, 'It’s going to happen in New York,'" Clinton said. "I hope it's the first of many states."
Hillary Clinton speaks at LaGuardia Community College before Gov. Cuomo signed the Scholarship bill on April 12, 2017. (DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly)
But the free tuition program comes with a number of qualifiers. In order to be eligible, students must be enrolled in a CUNY or SUNY school full-time, despite the fact that 43 percent of New York's public community college students are enrolled part-time, a study last year found.
Undocumented students are also ineligible for the scholarship, which is designed to supplement the state's existing aid program, for which undocumented residents can't currently apply.
Another provision — added to the plan at the behest of state Senate Republicans, according to reports — requires that students who take advantage of the scholarship live and work in New York after graduation for the same numbers of years that they benefited from the program.
Still, Cuomo's office says that more than 75 percent of families with college-aged students that earn up to $125,000 across the state would qualify for the program.
Among them may be Anika Lamia, a 16-year-old junior from Bronx High School of Science who came to Wednesday's bill-signing.
"I'm going to be a senior next year, I'll be applying to colleges, so this is really amazing. My parents were worried sick about what they'd have to do send me to college," she said, adding that she now wants attend a CUNY or SUNY school above all others.
"For me, right now, it doesn't matter if I get into Harvard," she said.