Another question is how much the Cuomo and Raimondo plans will truly benefit low-income students. Both proposals are what’s called “last-dollar” initiatives, meaning the states would only pay the balance of tuition after students use up existing state and federal aid, including Pell Grants. These current state and federal programs couldn’t be used to fund other college costs.
“The difference between first-dollar and last-dollar is pretty big and fundamentally changes how progressive a plan is,” said Mark Huelsman, a senior policy analyst at the liberal think tank Demos. He stressed that non-tuition costs are “a big area of college affordability that students face—it’s a huge driver of the student-debt crisis.”