Movement for Universal Access

Dear Governor Cuomo,

On behalf of 650,000 college and university students in Canada, we write to congratulate you on today’s announcement about New York State’s proposed Excelsior Scholarship. As many remarked during your press conference today, this is a momentous occasion for those who believe accessible post-secondary education is a crucial part of any fair and just society.  

If adopted, the Excelsior Scholarship will make two and four-year programs at New York’s state colleges tuition-free, and the measure will be phased in over three years. The program will apply to families with incomes of $125,000 or less who comprise the vast majority of potential post-secondary applicants (940,000 families in 2017). 

As you acknowledged, the Excelsior Scholarship is inspired by proposals espoused by Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton during the 2016 Presidential race. Both candidates pointed to the massive rise in student debt, and the need for urgent action to ensure generations of Americans weren’t left behind by mortgaged futures. 

Governor Cuomo, though it may come as a surprise to you, we are seeing a similar problem here in Canada. In the past fifteen years, revenue from tuition fees has tripled in Canadian colleges and universities thanks to decades of cuts, leading to a surge in student debt. By 2012, the last year for which data is available, public student loan debt in Canada reached $28 billion, up from $19 billion in 1999, and this doesn’t account for privately-held debt.

To address this problem, Canadian politicians offer status quo thinking: more loans, more tax credits and piecemeal grants and, in most jurisdictions, ever higher tuition fees. We have come to a moment when a Diploma in Aviation Technology (at Seneca College, a public institution in Northern Toronto) costs Canadian students $18,000 per year in tuition, and international students $71,000 per year. This example is repeated across our post-secondary sector, which barely resembles the system built by our grandmothers and grandfathers. 

Because of this, we are writing this letter to salute today’s announcement, but to also point out what progressive reform looks like to others. For that reason, we copy Canadian decision-makers here, and even President-elect Donald Trump. We hope that they will acknowledge that it is no longer justifiable to speak about “accessibility” on the one hand, while promoting ideas that escalate the costs of post-secondary education on the other.

Yours sincerely, 

Bilan Arte

National Chairperson, Canadian Federation of Students

Cc: Donald Trump, President-elect of the United States

The Rt. Hon. Justin Trudeau, Prime Minister of Canada

Chantal C. Beaulieu, Executive Director, Council of Ministers of Education Canada

The Hon. Bernie Sanders, Senator (D-VT)

Breana Ross, President, United States Student Association

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