Ava Mayer, Pratt Institute

I love Pratt, but sometimes I feel frustrated that the institution doesn’t do a better job accommodating the financial needs of students. I’m commuting from Astoria, Queens to my classes because of the cost of housing here at Pratt. It was also really tough getting a work-study position. A lot of my friends weren’t able to either, and I think there should be more jobs available on campus. It’s difficult enough having to work while being a student, and I think Pratt could do a better job acknowledging that and supporting initiatives that help them. If there were a better work-study program, I would more easily be able to support myself through school.

Jennifer Martinez, Borough of Manhattan Community College

My major is criminal justice. My career aspirations are mostly getting to help others through my work as not just a police officer but a homicide detective. I haven’t taken out a loan to pay for school and I am not currently employed. I expect to graduate from BMCC in the year of 2021, however with the current pandemic we are dealing with I’m afraid I will not graduate in time. I am struggling a little even if I have an advisor because of the way things are right now and the general situation.

Mental health care is highly important for times such as this, where the majority of people are being negatively affected. I personally never needed any help, however when it comes to assignments and due dates it is quite stressful having to complete school work at the same time. I did not receive any financial aid, so besides school expenses, I had to pay for transportation.

My biggest academic goal is to pass my quizzes by improving my time management. There were times where I had to buy some textbooks, the most expensive I bought was used but still paid in the 150-200 dollars range. Unfortunately, the school frequently has malfunctions with the elevators escalators but they are repaired somewhat quickly and are working normally.

A fully funded school can be seen as many different things. I personally don’t know what it will turn out to look like. It’s only been my first semester in college but, hopefully, it will look nicer and safe for everybody.

Melissa Salcedo, Borough of Manhattan Community College

I am majoring in business administration at BMCC. After my graduation I would really like to start my career as a creative director: I have always been a creative person, and being able to express it by visually representing a product that will be sold is something that really inspires me in pursuing my career. During my two years at BMCC I have been participating in some of the amazing programs they offer that really helped me and helped a lot of other students as well.

In particular, I will always be grateful for programs like the ASAP Leadership Program, where I made a lot of friends that have been a fundamental piece in my academic and personal growth. This program has also been able to help out less fortunate people. It is important to keep these activities open for students, because helping others while perfecting your abilities is an opportunity that more people should have. Before starting college, my goal was to achieve a high GPA and to find my dream career. Two years later, and after changing my major a few times, I am finally going to transfer to a four-year college with a GPA of 3.8.

I am still working hard to have a career that will make me satisfied in the future. Everything I have done during these semesters allowed me to graduate on time: in May 2020, I will finally get my associate degree. However, I would appreciate it if some services on campus were improved: I have been late for classes multiple times because elevators were not working; in some of my classes there were not enough seats for all the students or not enough paper in the bathroom. It is also important to hire more staff for mental health services, which counts only two therapists that have to work for thousands of students. The BMCC campus is great, but it could be improved by adjusting all the existing services they offer. I really hope that every other student after me will have the opportunity of being in an environment that makes them feel like home, where the bad sides of our college will be finally solved and the good sides will become even better.

Kiara Lo Coco, Borough of Manhattan Community College

I’m a first-year student majoring in criminal justice. After obtaining my bachelors I want to go to law school and become a criminal lawyer or a human rights lawyer. I receive TAP and a Pell Grant along with financial aid. My tuition is covered.

Unfortunately I do not have my own advisor. I have an opportunity to join the BLA program at my college but I fear that if I join BLA I will not be able to get any help from other programs such as ASAP. College textbooks, lunch, and transportation are expenses outside of tuition. I was looking for a job but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been made difficult to find a job and register for the upcoming semesters’ classes. My family and I are immigrants from Italy. Nobody in my family is working right now because of the pandemic. If I don’t get a STEM waiver, I will not be able to afford summer or winter courses. I am fortunate that I am able to attend college and receive an education that I can be proud of.

Personally I’m a very determined student. Being an immigrant pushes me to achieve unimaginable things such as getting a high school diploma in one year and doing 4 years’ worth of high school material by going to Saturday classes and waking up very early. I make sure that I am still on track even now because I’m that determined. We need a fully-funded CUNY because we are very motivated and dedicated students. If CUNY were to be fully funded, we would have better infrastructure that would allow us to get to class on time, instead of taking detours, and the staff we need to succeed.

Sarah Russo, Hunter College

I am majoring in Sociology and pursuing a certificate in Public Policy at Hunter College. This is my last semester. I just found out that I got accepted into graduate school in Spain where I will be getting a Masters in Education. I plan on being a teacher for at least the next few years after that. I am also considering going to law school eventually, but that would be many years from now. The reason that I chose this program is because if I work at a school, my tuition fees get waived. I wish I could say the same for my time at Hunter. I am paying for my education at Hunter College with a few different merit scholarships, both private and through my program at Hunter, without which I would not be able to attend school or I would have to make the difficult decision to take out a massive loan. The rest is covered with a combination of mine and my mother’s savings. To be able to be in the position to do this is an immense privilege that I do not take lightly. Because I am from New Jersey I do not qualify for TAP, Pell, or the Excelsior Scholarship. In order to pay for textbooks, food, rent, and a MetroCard I have been working part-time every semester and full time during summer and winter breaks. I wish that I was able to qualify for these types of financial aid because it would take away the stress of a huge financial burden for me and my family. I would have more time to not worry about working and actually have moments for rest and passion projects. 

I talk to students all the time, and the biggest barriers to education that I hear every day are always finances – CUNY is an institution built for working-class people, but the rising cost of tuition is making it less and less accessible. Every semester more and more of my friends have to drop out because they can no longer afford the cost of attendance. We need a free and fully funded CUNY so that every student has the opportunity to determine their own destiny, regardless of their financial status. The ability to pursue education is a human right and must be regarded as such. I wish that the state saw CUNY for the potential it has to be an engine of equity for all students, as well as an investment in the future of our economy and society as a whole.

Ashmani Appu, Hunter College

I am a freshman at Hunter College currently studying Biology. After college, I plan on going to medical school to further my education. I do not pay for school on my own, I receive financial aid. I receive TAP, Pell, and am a part of the SEEK opportunity program. I pay for my textbooks with the money I receive from Seek. I do not work but am trying to find a job to help support my family with money. I do not receive SNAP or work-study and pay for food with my SEEK checks and other financial aid. If I did not receive financial aid, I would have to resort to taking out a loan or finding a job so that I can make my own money. I am somewhat concerned about graduating on time, because I might not be able to complete all of my prerequisites for my major in time.

We need a fully-funded CUNY for low-income students who are not in any opportunity programs like SEEK or EOP and have to depend on other means such as working or work-study to pay for college. Many students could benefit from increased investment. Too many students have to rely on balancing jobs, school, and loans.

Judley Baltazard, City College of NY

I’m a junior majoring in Sociology. My future plans include graduate school to become a clinical therapist. I value all the resources available to be able to gain the skills necessary to further my career.

I am able to attend college through financial aid, including TAP and a Pell grant. I’m a first generation student, so furthering my education is more of a community achievement than anything else. Although I receive financial aid I have sought part-time employment to aid with my many expenses i.e food, bills, clothes, etc. I was unable, however, due to my heavy class load of 5 classes per semester. This class load is essential in order to receive the TAP and Pell grants which cap after four years.

A fully funded CUNY is fundamental to not only the success of thousands of students but the economy as a whole.

Lauren Jones, SUNY ESF

I chose to attend SUNY ESF for a few different reasons, the biggest being cost. My father is a doctor, and he is still paying off the loans that he took out to go to medical school three decades later. I didn’t want to end up in a similar situation as him, being forced into debt for the rest of my life. But even at a SUNY school, it keeps getting more expensive to be a student. Our dorms are almost three times as much as tuition, and we are forced to live in them for our first year. Tuition is increasing, but there have been constant cuts to programs and opportunities that the school can provide for us. 

I’m studying environmental science, and our textbooks cost so much! I don’t know how New York expects students like me to get our degrees while having so many extra costs. I was fortunate enough to receive an academic scholarship to ESF so I can avoid taking out loans or relying on my parents. This means that I need to dedicate extra time to my studies to keep the scholarship, which makes being able to get a part-time job very hard. I chose ESF to avoid going into debt, but with tuition hikes, living expenses, and the additional fees and materials I need to pay for, I don’t know if that is possible.

Sophia Pontello, SUNY Cortland

I’m currently a senior studying Psychology at SUNY Cortland. After graduation, I am going to attend graduate school and then begin a career as a school psychologist. In order to pay for school, I rely upon my own financial resources. My mother helps me, but I only receive a small amount of financial aid. I do not receive any grant money, like TAP or Pell, and I do not qualify for support programs that may assist me financially. When it comes to costs like textbooks and college fees, I pay for it out of pocket. I work regularly at a daycare center to pay for my food costs.  

I love college; I love its structure, which encourages me to do well in school. But college students struggle enough already, and SUNY schools should be fully funded because not every student can afford the costs of higher education and that’s something they shouldn’t have to worry about. The biggest challenge for me was the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s made my senior year very difficult to enjoy. Outside of that, some other challenges include having an inadequate adviser, who didn’t recommend the right things that I should be doing as far as my academics. I love SUNY Cortland and I want to see the right changes happen here even after I graduate. 

Bryan Reynoso, Syracuse University

I’m a freshman at Syracuse University studying Economics, and I am originally from the Bronx, NY. I decided to attend Syracuse because of all the opportunities available to make connections and build skills for my life after I graduate. Most employers believe that a bachelor’s degree is the same as what a high school diploma is now, and that means we need to build up our resumes so much while also being full-time students. I’m blessed enough to be able to receive part of my costs paid for by private scholarships as well as Pell Grants and a TAP reward, but I’ve still been forced to take out thousands of dollars in loans per year. I still don’t understand why I was forced at 18 to make a decision about going into debt for the next three decades in order to attend the college I wanted to.

I was only able to afford textbooks and some of my personal costs for the past 2 semesters by working at a full-time internship over the summer, and even then I had to use my loan refund to pay for the rest in the Spring. Having to pay an additional $1000 for one year’s worth of textbooks wasn’t something that I was prepared for as an incoming Freshman, and I don’t know how other students who aren’t able to save as much can pay for them. Going forward, I’m extremely worried about cuts to financial aid programs such as TAP and the Pell Grant program because there is no way I’d be able to continue to attend Syracuse without that help. Even though we are a private school, Syracuse students rely on assistance from our state government to be able to afford an education and help out our families after we graduate, instead of taking out even more loans and going deeper into debt.