CUNY Community College Students Need Help Cover Significant Costs of Returning to Class, Study Finds


As the city’s public community colleges prepare to retake some in-person classes this fall, many students will struggle to overcome financial hurdles to enter the classroom.

A new study by the Center for an Urban Future found that even before the pandemic, more than half of the community college students at the City University of New York dropped out before they graduated within three years. According to CUNY, only 27% of first-time full-time students earn a two-year associate’s degree in three years. estimates.

The problem isn’t just the $ 4,800 annual tuition fee for full-time students in the state, according to the study – it’s spending on other items, including child care, textbooks, school supplies and MetroCards that preclude a lot of a path to earning a college degree.

“It’s understood that many low-income families in New York City need this help: you need the free train ride to school, you need to subsidize textbooks,” said Jonathan Bowles, principal. executive of the Center for an Urban Future. “But when we get to public community colleges – a higher grade, grade 13 and 14 – the financial need doesn’t just go away,” even when aid does, he said.

He called on the next mayor and the next city council to allocate funds for costs beyond tuition assistance at the seven community colleges in CUNY, which served nearly 92,000 full-time and part-time students from 2019.

The majority of the city’s community college students receive some form of financial aid, while about half work full time and over 70% live in households earning less than $ 30,000 a year. Faced with unforeseen expenses such as medical bills – or even expected expenses, such as MetroCards – many students give up to stay financially afloat, according to the study.

The report coincides with a budget deal on hold at city hall with big stakes for cash-strapped CUNY community college students.

As Mayor Bill de Blasio proposed, the city’s budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1 would cut $ 10 million from a program called CUNY ASAP, which provides full-time students who meet certain standards academic grants for textbooks and a free MetroCard. That’s about an eighth of the program budget.

Money train

The average full-time student at CUNY Community College received about $ 7,503 in aid, including tuition, last year. But the costs of everything else – from books to supplies to transportation – can total $ 10,368 for students living at home or with parents, according to CUF’s analysis of nine-month student budgets.

For students living alone, expenses over the same period can total $ 24,446. And the costs can be even higher for a fifth of CUNY community college students who are parents: $ 600 more per month, unless they qualify for the Head Start program.

The cost of a MetroCard alone – about $ 1,000 a year – often derails students from their studies.

This includes Darleny Suriel, a former Borough of Manhattan Community College student. Although the 23-year-old worked full-time at Best Buy, she often didn’t have enough money to take the train to school.

“Sometimes I had to skip the turnstile or, you know, there were times when there were cops in my station, and if I didn’t have the money for a MetroCard, I just wouldn’t go. course, ”she said. “Between a $ 100 bill and not going to class, I just wouldn’t go to class.”

A person wearing plastic gloves slides their MetroCard on June 12, 2020.
Hiram Alejandro Durán / THE CITY

As Suriel’s absences piled up, her grades fell apart: at the end of her freshman year, she was put on academic probation and lost her financial aid. In 2017, she took a year-and-a-half hiatus from school, working to support her family and pay off the $ 3,000 debt she owed to school.

Job losses due to the pandemic have made matters worse for many students: Early surveys cited by the Center for an Urban Future suggest that half of CUNY students lost a part-time or full-time job during the pandemic.

Students were faced with overwhelming decisions like buying computers or grocery shopping.

After losing his construction job due to the pandemic, Luis Hernández, then a BMCC student, 25, chose to fork out $ 3,000 for a new computer and other equipment.

“I was already halfway through the semester, it was a tough decision, but it was too late to drop out of class,” Hernández told THE CITY. “I bought the computer knowing I would be hungry.”

As soon as possible for all

The report offers several solutions to help CUNY students. Among them: expanding child care at every community college campus and providing a MetroCard and free meals to every community college student in town, the same offered to college and high school students.

It is an approach that the chancellor of CUNY Félix Matos-Rodríguez supports: “We should look at higher education as a K-14 system and extend any support or service provided for K-12 by two years,” he noted at a recent forum.

Suriel, the former BMCC student, agreed.

“How can you expect a high school student who can’t afford a MetroCard or lunch to pay for it two months later when he enters college?” Said Suriel. “That does not make sense.”

The Center also recommends extending CUNY ASAP to all community college students. That would require $ 86 million in additional annual funding – while producing an additional 16,000 graduates per year, according to the Center’s estimates.

“City policymakers are really focused on how we build a more inclusive economy and how we develop economic opportunities in the city,” Bowles said. “And I think the city’s community colleges need to be at the center of this discussion. “

“Help us succeed”

Suriel and Hernández have managed to foil all odds, with the help of their employers and others.

Hernández completed his associate degree last fall and is now studying construction management at City Tech. During the pandemic, he shopped for groceries through his local church and was involved in grassroots distribution efforts in southeast Queens, where he lives.

He returned to work earlier this year. But he urges the city’s next mayor and the new city council to “help us succeed” by providing funds for school supplies and MetroCards for future students in need.

“Let’s not let ourselves be given up, because there is a lot of energy. Just like me, I am almost sure that hundreds of students are also fighting in the same situation every day. There is a lot of energy and we want to be successful, but we need help. “

Suriel returned to school in 2019 after paying back tuition fees she owed for her first year, working hours at Best Buy and working part-time at Goddard Riverside, a local nonprofit. where she still works on the education equity team.

That job paid her back for her MetroCard, and her managers let her have snacks and other gestures of support, which “made such a big difference,” Suriel said. She completed her associate studies last December and is now at City College, where she is studying political science.

She credits the support she received for her recovery.

“As they say, the proof is in the pudding: when I had to leave because I was on college probation, my GPA was 1.70. And last year I got a 3.30, ”she said. “I was in a better free space and was able to concentrate.”


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