Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s administration will pay the first two years out of school for recent New York state college graduates beginning in 2015.

Announced Jan. 18 and presented during last month’s State of the State address, the Get On Your Feet Loan Forgiveness Program will provide more economic stability for 7,100 graduates enrolled in the federal Pay As You Earn (PAYE), a program that caps monthly loan payments at 10 percent of a student’s discretionary income.

Cuomo’s program, which does not take into account students who do not finish their degrees, would cost $41.7 million a year and expects more than 24,000 participants annually by 2020.

According to a 2013 report by the Institute for College Access and Success, 60 percent of students who graduated from public and nonprofit colleges in New York state took acquired debt, with the average amount being roughly $26,000.

“Student loans are one of the greatest challenges that today’s recent college graduates face when starting their careers, and we must do more to give them a full opportunity to succeed,” Cuomo said. “By alleviating the weight of student loan debt, we can give our recent graduates a better shot at establishing themselves right here in the Empire State. I’m proud to include this item in my 2015 Opportunity Agenda as it represents another step forward in our goal of growing economic opportunity for New Yorkers.”

In order to qualify, college graduates must continue to live in the state post-graduation and earn less than $50,000 annually.

The program’s two-year loan debt forgiveness period would begin after the six-month grace period students already receive under federal law.

In response to Cuomo’s proposal, Chancellor of the State University of New York Nancy Zimpher said in a statement that the program is “yet another incentive for SUNY alums to stay in New York state after graduation and help us build a skilled workforce that will drive the state’s economy and set a higher standard for public higher education nationally.”

ALUMNUS FEATURED IN THE NEW YORK TIMES
Robert Noonan, a SUNY Plattsburgh alumnus who was featured in a New York Times article regarding the program, said Cuomo’s proposal was “a move in the right direction” but was not enough.

“Tuition has increased for the last decade, while legitimate financial aid, the one students don’t pay back, has not increased at the same rate,” said Noonan, who graduated from PSUC in 2012 with $28,000 in debt.

Currently, 2.8 million New Yorkers, such as Noonan, carry a student debt burden that totals $73.2 billion, according to a report by United University Professions.

Since the financial crash of 2008, the Institute for College Access and Success estimates that private loan volumes have increased from $5.2 billion in 2010 to $6.2 billion in 2012, even though “almost half of borrowers could be using more affordable federal loans.”

After receiving his degree in psychology, Noonan stayed a couple of months at home and then moved to New York to work as an organizer, focused on community outreach in West Harlem.

In a span of three years, Noonan’s debt grew $6,000, reaching $34,000 total.

“The payments I was making weren’t enough to overcome interest. Growing up, I knew I wanted to live in New York City. I didn’t have support from my parents,” Noonan said. “Had I received support from the state, I would’ve had financial stability. It would’ve allowed me to build a foundation.”

To complement or expand on the program for future graduates, Noonan would like to see more affordable textbook prices, an increase in need-based aid and more investments in the Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) for CUNY and SUNY schools.

The conversation should concentrate on preventing future students from walking away with debt, Noonan said.

Email Cardinal Points at cp@cardinalpointsonline.com.

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