Sabrina Maharaj, Borough Manhattan Community College

MY name is Sabrina Maharaj and it is my fourth year studying at BMCC. My major is business management and when I graduate BMCC my goal is to work for a business firm. I pay for college through the DISCOVERY program and TAP assistance. My first year of college I had to pay for my tuition out of pocket because I didn’t fill out the correct financial aid forms in time. Because of the confusing and overwhelming forms to fill out for financial aid, my brother had to pay for my tuition out of pocket for me that semester.

Since receiving financial aid, the DISCOVERY program has been very helpful for me to help cover the costs of college. It helps pay for most costs associated with college, except I still have to pay for my transportation costs. I would not be able to afford college if it were not for the DISCOVERY and TAP programs that help me cover the costs. I would have had to get a full time job and I know from experience that juggling both a job and classes makes both very difficult.

Even though I receive financial aid I still did get a job to help my parents pay for the mortgage and other household bills. I would not have been able to afford tuition while also helping my parents out. In 2018 I got a job at the airport as a cashier at a travel sales store. I was waking up at 3:30 in the morning to catch the bus to JFK for my 6am shift. I worked 4 times a week, working 36 hours weekly. Eventually, I had to take a break from classes because it was too much doing both work and school at the same time. During COVID my job laid me off and then they would not rehire me because they found out I was back at school. This makes it very difficult to help pay for costs of living and help my parents with the bills. Tuition needs to be free and there needs to be more financial assistance to college students and their families. 

Sabah Ahsan, Queens College

My name is Sabah Ahsan and I am a junior, Urban Studies and Political Science double major at Queens College, City University of New York. After graduating, I plan to pursue a Master’s of Public Administration (MPA), and work for a municipal agency in New York City or State. I originally became interested in an MPA in my Urban Studies classes. In these courses I learned how insufficient some social services are in the United States. I would like to improve these systems so that more people have a social safety net to rely on and have opportunities for upward mobility. I’m grateful for my professors and advisors at Queen College, who have guided me to my career path. That being said, there are facets of my college experience, and CUNY more broadly, that have room for improvement. 

I’ve had a positive college experience at Queens College, but I have a few challenges.  I am a recipient of the Macaulay Honors Full Ride Scholarship, which covers tuition, textbooks, and provides me with a laptop. I also have an advisor through the Macaulay program, and It has been nice to have one-on-one academic guidance. Personally, my main struggle is maintaining the high GPA requirement for my scholarship. To continue to be eligible for the scholarship, I must earn a 3.5 GPA or higher every semester. I wouldn’t be able to attend college without my scholarship, so it is stressful for me, especially juggling my coursework, extracurriculars, and an internship. While my college experience has been mostly positive, my scholarship does put additional pressure on me. 

Outside of myself, I can see ways in which Queens College and the CUNY System could be better. For example, in this coming semester, the Urban Studies department is offering all in person classes. I’ve noticed that throughout the pandemic, in-person classes are less likely to be filled than the online classes. This is a challenge for adjunct professors, as their jobs are dependent upon students taking their classes. It would be better if it were up to the discretion of the professor whether or not the class was in-person or online, or if we had additional funding for Covid safety measures. Overall, CUNY’s response to the pandemic could have been better. 

To solve issues of the pandemic response, and the stressors of the Macaulay Scholarship, CUNY needs more state funding. Since we are largely a commuter school, most students live with their parents, and many are wary of exposing the older generation to COVID-19. More students would feel comfortable coming to campus if there was a weekly testing program for all students. Additionally, CUNY has been cutting the amount of tenure track faculty, and instead replaces them with adjunct positions. Adjunct faculty lack the job security and have lower salaries than the full time faculty. CUNY needs more funding in the state budget to treat our professors right. Lastly, CUNY needs more funding for mental health resources for students. Students face many stressors in college, such as for me, maintaining the high GPA requirement for my scholarship. Currently, the counselors at Queens College can only see students for free for a few sessions, until the student needs to pay out of pocket. This makes counseling at QC inaccessible for many students. Therefore, we need more state funding for CUNY to help with the pandemic response, treat our faculty fairly, and to provide more mental health resources for students. 

Isabellah Paul, Hunter College

My name is Isabellah Paul I am currently a sophomore transfer student double majoring in Political Science and Women & Gender Studies here at CUNY Hunter. At my previous institution I was in a program that granted me a tuition scholarship, however upon transferring to Hunter I was awarded no financial aid since my mother had a full time job and has been working for 20 years. I resorted to taking out loans to pay for my tuition and I also work to cover any other costs. Being a full time matriculated student and working part time gets difficult to manage, especially when considering the money I am taking out in loans. I wish to go to law school upon graduating too so I will have to continue taking out loans for another 3 years. As a single mother of 4, my mom works full time and pays rent. Therefore, I like to remain fiscally independent to ease some of her burden. I pay for my own phone bill, books, my commute, food, and any other miscellaneous costs. Managing all this in tandem with school has been stressful at times.

Oftentimes since my mother is so overwhelmed with work, I have to assume responsibility for household errands such as grocery shopping, laundry, picking up my siblings from school, etc. One night my brother broke his arm and I had to bring him to the hospital since my mother had work the next morning and I was the only other household member above the age of 18. I spent the whole night there and could not get a chance to go to school the next day. Events like this often make managing school difficult, especially when they abruptly occur and no one else can handle them but me.

CUNY has been known for its affordability and their ability to grant students the opportunity to achieve their academic dreams on their own time. However, this affordability has been compromised and supporting a fully funded CUNY will enable students like myself and many others in getting their degree more feasible than before. Every student has a different financial situation and supporting them through making CUNY free like in the past can help aid the accessibility in obtaining higher education for many.

Jordan Gibberman, Purchase College

My name is Jordan Gibberman and I am a student at  SUNY Purchase. My experiences paying for college all began in the summer of 2018 before freshman year. My family and I had to apply for student loans all because I decided to live on campus. We didn’t have a lot of money to afford housing and meal plans, so the loans were the only option. We applied for a federal loan that my school offered us, but even that wasn’t enough. Additionally, we applied for a private loan from College Ave. In other words, I have two different kinds of student loans. 

This would last up to the midpoint of the Spring 2020 semester, when I transitioned to remote learning due to the COVID-19 pandemic. During that time, I came to an important realization that going away to school is super expensive and staying at home is just right for me. So, my family and I stopped applying for student loans and focused on paying for school with financial aid, along with the Excelsior scholarship that I had throughout my whole college experience. That scholarship only helped me cover the tuition, and the only reason I qualified for it was because I go to a SUNY school and the governor at the time created it for students who want to go to SUNY schools, but have low household income. 

I certainly hope I qualify for student loan forgiveness. That would be a huge benefit for me as I would only be paying back less than what I currently owe, which honestly isn’t that much compared to what students normally would have during normal times. Overall, I wish I didn’t have to go through this experience paying for college — it’s honestly one of the reasons why I often think about if I should’ve gone to college or not.

Abram Morris, City College of NY

Abram is a junior at the City College of New York pursuing a degree in Architecture. After he graduates, he wants to work on municipal buildings and urban planning. Although Abram receives TAP and Pell, it is not enough to cover his entire tuition. He mostly relies on his Macaulay honors awards and his grandmother to pay his remaining tuition. His scholarship money only covers 70% of his tuition and the rest is paid out of pocket. Although paying off his tuition is not a big challenge, he hopes that with more CUNY funding, he can get the resources to pay for his housing expenses.

Isabelle Pastore, SUNY Cortland

My name is Isabelle Pastore and I attend SUNY Cortland full time. I am a senior now, but I have been here since freshman year. I am from Stony Brook, Long Island. I decided to go to SUNY Cortland because my parents only allowed me to apply to SUNY schools. Cortland seemed like a good choice because I absolutely loved it when I visited. I toured a couple of other schools, but Cortland truly felt like home. A few of my friends were going to Cortland too, so I knew I would be comfortable here. I am majoring in Communications and I love it, but I’m not really sure what I want to do in the future. I pay for tuition through the help of my parents and student loans. Most of my tuition is paid through financial aid but  I am very worried about having to pay back my student loans. I work 15 hours a week over summer and winter break to help pay for my personal spendings, but it’s not nearly enough to pay my student loans. I think college should cost substantially less than it does. When my parents went to school, it cost much less and attending college was less common. I don’t think it’s fair that tuition costs so much because in today’s society, it is expected that people attend college in order to get a well paying job. I don’t like how we need to pay thousands of dollars in order to make good money. I think college should be more of a choice than a requirement. On top of tuition, students need to purchase textbooks each semester. Textbooks can cost hundreds of dollars and I truly think they should be included in tuition. 

The pandemic was a difficult time for me and my family. During COVID-19, my Dad unfortunately lost his job. Fortunately, my Mom also works so we still had an income, but it wasn’t enough for all of our everyday costs. It was hard for a while and there was even a time where I thought I would have to transfer home to attend school there. We didn’t even get Christmas presents that year. My parents wanted me to drop my sorority solely because we weren’t sure if we could afford it anymore. Thankfully, my Dad was able to get another job about a year later. 

Getting a college degree is important to me because it’s required in order to get a well paying job. I want to get my degree because I want to be able to support myself and live a fulfilling life. It upsets me that I will have to spend a good portion of my life paying back my student loans. I definitely think college should be way more affordable and less expected than it is and I hope that in the future, college is way more affordable for everyone. 

Angela Shin, Hunter College

I am a senior attending Hunter College. Thankfully, I was eligible for FAFSA and TAP which paid for my college tuition as well as provided me with money for transportation and book fees. However, not everyone is lucky enough to get their tuition paid for. I remember hearing the sad news about people around me not being able to go to their dream college or college at all due to the expensive and constantly rising tuition that could not be easily paid. Not everyone had parents who saved up money for their children’s tuition or had extra money to pay for college. To some students and families, it was already hard to pay rent, phone bills, Wi-Fi bills, or buy food to feed their families. Some of these students could not do loans to create more debt which will burden them more or were not eligible for tuition assistance. I find it so sad that there are people out there that had to give up their dreams, passions, and education due to the cost of tuition. People should not be expected to pay to learn and if they were to pay, it should not cost this much. It is unbelievable that one of the highest debts in America is from student loans. 

Although I am grateful to get tuition assistance, I worry that one mistake will take away my financial aid such as not doing well in school, failing a class, or in this case, an error made by the system. I remember being a freshman in college and not knowing how college and financial aid worked. I had filled out FAFSA and TAP but I did not receive my financial aid until the end of the semester. After repeatedly going to the Financial aid and Bursar offices at my school, I found out that due to a mistake made by the system, I could not receive my financial aid. They had never informed me of this issue and it was not until I fixed it that I received financial aid. Due to my tuition being paid late that semester, I had to pay a few hundred dollars out of my own pocket to pay for late fees, textbooks, transportation costs, and etc. I wish there were more things being done to help students feel at ease when receiving financial aid. I think of the many students out there that must have gone through the same problem as me. 

Like many of the students, I also help pay for phone bills, water bills, Wi-Fi bills, and etc. Tuition, textbook fees, and transportation are not the only things being paid for with the help of financial aid. To make it worse, transportation fees cost a lot and with things being a one tap system, I cannot save money on transportation fees. I worry that the MTA will increase the price again one day which will become very troubling to me. I want to continue studying psychology so I can one day use my knowledge to help people out. To do so, I will be staying in college for a few more semesters to study. I worry about the cost of tuition as financial aid will not cover me the whole time. I am looking for jobs and have been applying to scholarships to help with my tuition. Therefore, I wish the people in charge of higher education realize that many students out there are worrying about paying for their tuition on top of working hard to study. I hope that they can work more on the funding and make it more accessible to other people who wish to have the opportunity to go to college. 

Daniela Medina, City College of NY

Daniela is a freshman at the City College of New York pursuing a degree in Psychology. She hopes to become a psychiatrist after she graduates so she can address the taboos of mental health in her culture and help vulnerable people. Although Daniela is working hard to get her degree, limited financial aid and lack of communications with financial aid advisors is making it hard for her to stay focused. She receives TAP but it is not enough to cover all her expenses, leaving her to pay most of her tuition out of pocket. Daniela’s mother helps her pay her tuition but that is becoming hard since she has 2 younger siblings she also needs to provide for. Daniela also has to dorm on campus since her parents live far from CCNY, and that increases the cost of going to college significantly. To make matters worse, financial aid advisors don’t always answer Daniela’s questions about FAFSA or financial aid packets, making it harder to plan how she will pay her tuition. She has recently applied for loans and is looking to work to pay for her college education.

Velemsky Duvermond, Borough of Manhattan Community College

I attend The Borough of Manhattan Community College. I was paying for college through financial aid and the college discovery program. I wasn’t one of the smartest or focused students, so it has been challenging due to the fact that I was required to keep up a certain GPA in order to keep my financial aid.
I started my years at BMCC as an Early Childhood Education major, but I was in the process of changing my major to go into social work. Yes, I have loans, I’m a little worried. I have been in BMCC for some time now and I fear that my financial aid will be finished before I complete my four years. And then even more after that. Financial aid has been very helpful with paying for my classes, but towards the end of every semester, it was hard to buy food because I was in the school for mostly the whole day and also having to pay for my train and bus rides to and from class every single day was hard

In the beginning of my 2019 semester, I got a job and it was helping me a little bit, but for me to get a decent paycheck, I would have to work long hours which distracted me from being able to focus on my school work which has further delayed my education. I do not personally pay for rent, but my mother does, and I felt bad that she had to do it all on her own, so I was trying tirelessly for about 2 years to look for a job to help support her a little bit on top of paying for food and transportation.

Getting a degree for me would mean everything. Everyday I have people asking me, “are you in school”, “when are you finishing school,” etc. I’m just tired of delaying the process. It would also mean a lot to my mom. I would be the first one in my family to go and to complete college. I want to give not just my mom a better life, but myself as well and it would give me a chance to make a difference in the world.

Shajane Butcher, Borough of Manhattan Community College

I currently attend The Borough of Manhattan Community College and I’m a Science major. I got in on an excelsior scholarship and with limited financial aid. So, I had transferred to BMCC in my freshman year in the Spring semester and was put into a remedial math course after I had taken it at my other school before BMCC and I passed it as well. It took me some time to get it dealt with but I was able to speak to a deputy teacher in the department who said that she’d try me out of it but that it was past the deadline to drop classes, but I managed through that pitfall.

Right now, the only thing that’s really holding me back is the pandemic. I have also been battling some health issues, nothing connected to Covid-19, but still enough to keep me out of class for a while. I would love to be given a break by the school board because some classes have gotten more difficult due to the professor being hard to work with and the pandemic throwing everything off. I had no loans and when I had a job I was working roughly 20 plus hours a week, since I worked when I had a day off of school or had a class finish early. I normally worked on night shifts, I was also a full time student during this time.

For some reason financial aid only paid for half of my tuition, I had no idea why, but the pandemic kinda saved me because financial aid was not paying everything. I did have to pay for what they didn’t cover, I paid out of pocket when I had a job but this semester it’s lower since I’m at home. I currently live with my parents and they predominantly pay the bills, but I do pay the gas and light bills, and sometimes other bills. I thankfully paid the max on our gas and it saved us during the pandemic.

Personally, any degree in this day and age is for me, an opportunity to not be held back by society. It’s the place that I got the most opportunity, with great teachers who have seen so much in me, since in high school and in junior high I had to compete so hard against others. So, getting this degree is a really important opportunity. I hope that I’ll be able to graduate on time because of this pandemic.