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What you need to know about New York's tuition-free scholarship

Katie Lobosco, CNN | 6/7/2017, 1:37 p.m.
Tuition-free college just became a reality in New York.
Medgar Evers College

NEW YORK (CNNMoney) -- Tuition-free college just became a reality in New York.

Though other places have free community college, New York is the first to make tuition free at four-year public colleges as well.

Governor Andrew Cuomo introduced the tuition-free legislation in January and lawmakers approved the plan this weekend.

Middle-class families could save up to $25,880 for a four-year degree at a State University or City University of New York school.

But not everyone will benefit from the new Excelsior Scholarship.

Who is eligible?

You must be an undergraduate enrolled at a SUNY or CUNY school. There's also an income cap, which will be phased in over the first three years.

Starting this fall, families who earn no more than $100,000 a year are eligible. The income cap will lift to $110,000 next year and will reach $125,000 in 2019. It's based on the adjusted gross income reported on the family's most recent tax return.

If your family earns more than that, you don't get the scholarship. There is no sliding scale and the threshold does not take into consideration how many children are in the family.

Do graduates have to stay in New York?

Yes. After they graduate, students who received the scholarship must live and work in New York for the same number of years they received funding. If they leave the state, their scholarship will be converted into a no-interest loan.

This does not apply to those who go on to graduate school out of state. They will be allowed to defer the requirement, but must return to New York within six months after finishing their advanced degree.

There will be exceptions for students who relocate due to "an allowable hardship," according to the state's Higher Education Services Corporation.

Is there an age limit?

No. Students can enroll at any age and don't have to be a recent high school graduate. But you cannot already have a bachelor's degree or be in default on existing federal or state student loans.

Are undocumented students eligible?

No. Students must be a citizen, permanent resident, or refugee. Governor Cuomo pushed to make undocumented students eligible for the scholarship and other state aid, but that provision was not included in the final budget.

Could students lose the scholarship?

Yes. Students must remain enrolled full time, taking 30 credits a year. Some of those credits could be taken during the summer or winter semesters.

But there will be exceptions. Students with disabilities will not be required to register full time to be eligible for the scholarship, according to SUNY.

Students are also required to maintain the GPA necessary to stay in school and finish on track to graduate on time.

How much will SUNY and CUNY cost students now?

The scholarship covers the cost of tuition, which is currently $6,470 annually at four-year schools and about $4,350 a year at community colleges.

But students will still be on the hook for fees and other expenses. At a SUNY school, fees cost $1,590 annually and room and board for those living on campus was $12,590 this year. Books could run you another $1,000.