New York

Cuomo Scholarship Turns Golden Door Into Golden Handcuffs

It's not clear that Cuomo's plan for a scholarship clawback is even constitutional.

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Rae Allen/Flickr

"Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,"—but once you arrive in New York, don't dare try moving somewhere else, or Gov. Andrew Cuomo will be chasing you to take back your college scholarship money. Leave it to Cuomo to transform what Emma Lazarus's poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty called the "golden door" into a modern version of golden handcuffs.

Cuomo's new "Excelsior Scholarships," included in the recently passed New York state budget, require students to live and work in the Empire State for as many years following graduation as they received the scholarship.

Cuomo's press release doesn't say how this requirement will be enforced.

Maybe he will make like Donald Trump and build a physical wall around the state to keep the scholarship-winning graduates in.

Perhaps he will ask New York's representatives in Congress to pass a "Fugitive Scholarship-Winner Act," compelling to other states to capture and return any scholarship winner who ventures beyond New York's boundaries.

The point was touched on recently by a New York Times columnist, David Brooks, in his article memorably headlined, "The Cuomo College Fiasco." Brooks had a long list of reasons that the scholarships were counterproductive and ill-conceived. But the one that caught my eye was his concern that scholarship recipients "won't be able to seize out-of-state opportunities during the crucial years when their career track is being formed. They'll be trapped in a state with one really expensive city, and other regions where good jobs are scarce."

If Cuomo had succeeded as governor, he'd be confident that recent graduates would want to stay in the state without either being bribed by a scholarship or being threatened to have to pay it back. Massachusetts, for example, grants a somewhat similar, four-year, tuition-free John and Abigail Adams Scholarship without any such demand that recipients remain in the state for years after graduation.

The sad reality is, though, that New Yorkers are fleeing in droves. I'm one of those who left, saying goodbye to New York and Gov. Cuomo in 2013 after 15 years in the state. I was able to escape the state without devastating personal financial consequences, which is more than can be said for the Excelsior Indentured Servants, er, "scholarship recipients."

One can't blame Cuomo, who became governor January 1, 2011, for identifying population loss in his state as a problem on which to focus. From 2010 to 2016, the population of Texas grew 10.8 percent, or more than 2 million. Florida's population grew 9.6 percent, about 1.8 million people, during those six years. Even high-tax California's population grew 5.4 percent, about 2 million people, during the same period. Massachusetts, where I moved to from New York, saw its population grow 4 percent, or about 250,000 people.

During the same time span, New York's population grew a paltry 1.9 percent.

It's not clear that Cuomo's plan for a scholarship clawback is even constitutional. A professor at the University of Chicago Law School, Daniel J. Hemel, floated the question of whether the stay-in-New York requirement risks violating something called the "Dormant Commerce Clause," a restriction implied by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and limiting the states from erecting their own obstacles to interstate commerce.

As an ideological matter, the idea that government assistance comes with conditions isn't necessarily problematic. Republicans and Clinton Democrats alike supported work requirements for able-bodied welfare recipients. Scholarships for students in the Reserve Officers' Training Corps come with agreements for military service after graduation.

But New York has long been a gateway to the rest of America, not a dead end. It was, after all, a New York newspaper editor, Horace Greeley, who advised, "Go West!"

What if an Excelsior scholarship recipients wins a Rhodes or Marshall scholarship for graduate study overseas, or is moved by patriotism to enlist in the U.S. army in wartime, or wants to join the Peace Corps, or falls in love with a student from somewhere else? Cuomo's college scholarships are ostensibly intended to help students by unshackling them from onerous debt. By locking the scholarship recipients up inside the state's borders, the governor just swaps in his own version of chains.

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  1. Not a bug, a feature.
    I believe, on the evidence, ‘Cuomo’ is Italian for ‘shithead’.

    1. Alas, google translate says it translates to “Cuomo’. I suppose that’s just as bad. He’ll be forever associated with that word.

    2. Fun fact: according to Google Translate, “Cuomo” is Italian for… “Cuomo.”

      Funner fact: “Soave” is Italian for “sweet,” particularly pertaining to white wine.

    3. “Cuomo” needs to be redefined just as ‘Santorum’ was.

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  2. a restriction implied by the Commerce Clause of the Constitution and limiting the states from erecting their own obstacles to interstate commerce.

    I thought the commerce clause was so that the Federal Government could ban things.

    1. Well, that’s what it has become. “Regulate” was used in the Commerce Clause of our constitution to mean “make regular.” That clause was inserted to make it clear that the States should not ban products from other States.

    2. Think in either/or terms much?

  3. They gonna put y’all back in chains.

  4. NY will then have the most educated unemployed in the country.

  5. He better not advertise these scholarships on craigslist.

  6. Free Housing for Hot Girls? That’s Slavery!, Say Progressives

    free college ??

  7. As someone who is related to Horace Greeley, I would advise not going all the way West to taxifornia. “Go to the freest states!”

  8. … When I was in college, there was an attractive scholarship, “Scholarships for Service” that I could take. It was a similar deal, scholarship and stipend in return for years of federal service after.

    Today, I could seek to get my employer to help pay for grad school, with the condition that I’d be obligated to remain with them for a number of years afterward.

    So I gotta ask… why is this deal being treated like it’s a trap or unethical? Seems pretty standard to me.

    Because it limits some options? Well, yeah. I’m not sure I’ve ever heard of a scholarship that didn’t have conditions. Whether it’s based on what you do after, or where you go, or being part of some group or something, most scholarships have obligations and expectations that come hand-in-hand.

    If you don’t want any expectations on your behavior, then you don’t accept scholarships that come with strings.

    1. Without having read all the details…I would say that the difference is that this is not really a “scholarship” in the sense that you apply for it and, if awarded, you sign a contract that binds you to its terms. This sounds more like “You live in New York, here’s your Free College! And by the way, you can’t leave.” My impression–which may be proved wrong–is that anyone who fills out a FAFSA that shows less than $100K income is going to be automatically enrolled in this program. There is a significant difference between opt-out and opt-in, especially if opting out is not easy or straightforward.

  9. I don’t think it’s unconstitutional. I actually think mandating that they spend an equal number of years in NY is actually one of the more redeeming conditions of an otherwise bad idea.

  10. It is a contract. If you accept the money, you accept the condition to stay in state.

    Will NY be required to keep statistics on the percentage of recipients who find good jobs? Or what percentage of them also have to take student loans to pay for college? Since it is in no way a real scholarship, in that it pays for barely half of the expenses.
    But then again, it is only New York, so irrelevant to the free world.

  11. Cuomo’s press release doesn’t say how this requirement will be enforced.

    Firing squad or gas chamber are the usual means by which progressive policies are enforced.

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