In recent weeks, New York State Governor Andrew Cuomo has been talking about a plan to make college at state universities free for residents of the state. This plan has been met with cautious optimism from residents of NY, even though the question still looms about how it’s all going to be paid for.

A surprising place I’ve found resistance to this plan has been the liberal arts university that I attended in upstate NY. I’ll withhold the name of the school, but I received what I believe to be a world class education. I wasn’t only given facts, dates, and events to memorize, I was educated to see the world complexly and think critically. Despite the crushing student load debt I’m still paying for from my schooling, I still believe it was worth it to be a student there because of the person they helped me become. I’ve always thought the world of this school and their commitment to being an educational institution that strives to create good citizens of the world.

That made the email they sent to me all the more confusing. The argument being made was that more students would choose free state education over their more expensive private education, and we as alumni were encouraged to speak out against this program. This flies in the face of the very liberal arts education I received from this school. We were taught to think ethically about all situations, to critically examine things and see them from perspectives beyond our own, but that doesn’t seem to be what the school is doing. They’re even encouraging former students to used the college’s mailing address if they live out of state to make sure their protests are paid attention to in Albany.

When looking at this program, it’s clear that more students in NYS will inevitably be able to receive higher education, but it will ultimately be harder on smaller private colleges to keep enrollment up. So the school’s reaction is to abandon the very style of thinking they taught me for four years, and act in the spirit of self interest.

So I suppose the conflict I find myself in goes something like this: Do I support the school I am so fiercely loyal to and have been proud of up until now, or do I act on the education I received and support free college tuition for all residents of the state, because that would be acting in the interest of more than my just my sphere of interest?

I love my alma mater and I’m proud to have attended there, but on this issue they’ve lost me. They taught me to stand with the marginalized, the people on the outside, and truly be a scholar servant. That means opening doors to as many potential students as possible to higher education. That world class liberal arts education I received it still a draw, and with any luck, will survive this shift in the way education is done statewide.

Essays on the Record