Cynthia Leon, City College of New York

My name is Cynthia Leon. I am currently in the first semester of my fourth year here at the City College of New York. I am a Biology and Psychology major on the pre-med track. When I first got into college, I met up with an advisor who told me that my major choices would take more than four years to complete. When I heard this, I was alarmed since this meant that an extra year would involve payment on my part (excluding financial aid). Also, if I wanted to abridge the time towards graduation, I would have to pay out of pocket for winter and summer courses. On top of this, I had to pay for transportation, meals, and materials needed for my courses. Fortunately, I was able to receive financial help from the Ellen Knowles Harcourt Scholarship. The founders of the Harcourt Scholarship assured me that I can rely on them when I had outstanding balances from the Bursar that needed to be paid off or to cover the cost of books. Additionally, they would cover the cost of my transportation and any other college-related expenses. The financial support I received, as well as the moral support, relieved me from the stress and burden of my financial plight.

Olivia Sudol, City College of New York

A lot of people fail to consider how financial aid needs to cover more than just tuition. The living expenses associated with getting a college education quickly add up and end up costing students thousands of dollars on necessities — mandatory expenses that not everyone can afford. Even though I was lucky enough to get financial assistance to afford my tuition, like many other students, I’m left responsible for hundreds of dollars in books and transportation each semester as well as thousands of dollars for housing. 

I lived on campus at City College when COVID-19 hit; we were told we would receive partial refunds for leaving our leases early but we only received this money six months later. Additionally, many students had already signed lease agreements for the Fall 2020 semester, and the only financial solution for them was to pay $1000 to terminate that lease or be held responsible for the full $12-18 thousand dollars. Most students pay for dorming with their finances and the refunds could have had a significant impact on students who lost income due to the pandemic. In a twisted way, COVID-19 has made college more affordable for me by reducing the cost of transportation to campus and allowing me to live with my parents instead of paying for housing. It’s time politicians in Albany acknowledge the external costs of higher education.

Eric Jing Guo, Buffalo State College

Eric Jing Guo has been a student for many many years. He has had to take out loans to be able to pay for his education since he didn’t receive any assistance from the state. Like many students, he  is worried about paying back his looming student debt. 

But Eric is a dedicated student and has worked incredibly hard to get to where he is today, as a graduate student, a teacher’s assistant, and a research assistant in his field of study, which is public/non-profit management, as well as market computer discipline science. Eric hopes to use the knowledge he has gained through his college experience to help small businesses promote themselves and grow their markets. He feels that in today’s world, a college education is important to succeed. 

The pandemic has hit everyone, but thankfully Eric was at the very end of his degree, and since he is taking his final class to graduate he said it has not been too much of a burden on him, however, he and his cousin have both lost income due to these trying circumstances. But one thing Eric has noticed is just how much the pandemic affects the class dynamic. It comes as no surprise that overall communication between teachers and students has become more difficult, as sending an email doesn’t exactly lend for the best back and forth sort of discussion that is necessary for fostering education. 

Eric doesn’t have too much more to go before he accomplishes his goal and is thankful for all the individual support he has received from his professors and peers over his time being a student in America. 

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 most focused students, so it has been challenging because I was required to keep up a certain GPA 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. 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 courses. 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 the whole day and also having to pay for my train and bus rides to and from class every single day was hard

At 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, 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. Every day 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 my mom a better life and myself as well and it would give me a chance to make a difference in the world. 

Erick Inirio, Borough of Manhattan Community College

We need to fund Higher Education because of services like ASAP. ASAP has helped me in my academic years at BMCC. I’m grateful to have someone who helps me stay on track. ASAP has helped me buy my textbooks and has even supplied me with a MetroCard. Not only was ASAP there for me when times were tough, but they were also there to make sure I had everything I needed to go forward in my academic year. We all know how stressful college can be so it’s nice to get reminders just in case you forget an upcoming application you might have to do for college or something else.

The thing I liked with ASAP was that you’ll have not one but two meetings with a personal advisor to whom you will talk about how you’re doing at the moment with classes, textbooks, etc. And depending on the answer the ASAP advisor will make things happen so you could push forward during your semester. If you are not doing well the advisor might suggest and arrange a tutor, or if you still haven’t got all your textbooks they’ll make it happen.

If ASAP gets defunded lots of people would not have access to the resources they need for school. I would have to compete with other students to make sure I get advisor appointments and schedule classes. I would also be by myself throughout the education process, and not have an advisor to help me stay on track towards graduating.

Ankush Gaba, Queensborough Community College

I am studying Business Administration at Queensborough Community College, and I want to pursue accounting in the future. This is my second year, and I am graduating in Fall 2020. I’m currently in ASAP and they help cover some expenses and books, but I don’t receive any financial aid and pay out of pocket for tuition during the summer or winter sessions. Because of COVID-19 I haven’t been able to work for a month, but I still have to pay off my bills and help support my family. 

I am an immigrant. The only way I can pay for this college is by working and working too much. I have to deal with my travel expenses, meals, and then my tuition or textbook expenses. I work three jobs to get myself going and also help my family financially too as we are here to make our future. A fully funded CUNY would take a big load of stress off of me and my family, and would especially help immigrant families who are trying to save as much as they can to have a secure and better future. 

Being QCC’s Student Government President I think if people didn’t have to worry about paying for college, they could have more time to study or get involved with campus life and opportunities, rather than running to work right after class.

Mohima Bahar, Brooklyn College

I am a dual major in Children and Youth Studies and Political Science. I hope to be an advocate and fight for matters that are important to me. I have decided to pursue Children and Youth Studies because there are many children in Bangladesh, my native country that continue to suffer with little to no voice. I am fortunate enough to come to the United States and pursue education. But many children around the world are not as lucky. I hope to make a change in how children are viewed and treated in society. Thus, I decided to major in Political Science also, because in order to make a change I need to have the power to influence or be part of policymaking such as through activism. 

I receive Pell, TAP, and I also work to put myself through school. The financial aid awards covered my higher education costs like tuition, textbooks. But it definitely does not cover my food, rent, and other living expenses. I work to cover my living expenses such as food and transportation. I have one job and I work 20 hours a week. It is hard to pay for commuting while paying tuition so I have to work. I would like to see the state support students with the other costs associated with college that people often forget about. 

Sierra, Pratt Institute

I’ve had financial trouble as a result of going to Pratt, because Pratt doesn’t accept a lot of transfer credits. I came from an international institution, and it took months for Pratt to get back to me about my credits. I was also coming from a schooling situation that cost very little money compared to what I’m paying for here. The school responded to me about my credits after I was accepted, and they didn’t accept most of them. This essentially means that my schooling last year didn’t count, and it makes me ineligible for a lot of programs I’m interested in. I felt like I was learning a lot of the same things that I had spent my first year in college learning, but paying so much more. Pratt could be better about supporting students through transitioning into their institution- It takes a while for the advising team to respond, and often I haven’t felt heard.

Henry Fernberger, Hunter College

I’m a senior at Hunter College studying Ancient Greek and Latin. I was part of a Greek / Latin scholarship program, a little known one but also out of pocket. I do film editing on the side and edited some short videos. I didn’t receive the Pell Grant or TAP. The scholarship helped a lot. I don’t receive any additional help. 

I was lucky enough to have been able to live with my parents during college. I don’t have to pay rent so it allows me to devote my income towards school so I’m lucky in that way. I do not receive SNAP. I try to eat at home which also allows me to save money. 

I’m pretty independent so I’m not in the worst situation, and you know it’s tough because you really have to be careful. Hunter is pretty difficult and you have to make sure you get your classes done because before you know it, you can tack on more classes for your degree. It’s pretty common for a lot of students to make those mistakes because of no contact with an advisor. 1 advisor for every 1000 students and the ratio might be more than that. I never saw my advisor. 

My parents had gone to college, so it was a little bit easier for me to navigate but for some people who are the first students to navigate alone might not be easy. There’s more steps they have to take. I could be a bunch of steps back in my degree trying to catch up. 

We need to decide whether or not we want to live in a society where we value educated people we can show that by giving access to education for everybody. By every metric, an educated population means growth and prosperity for the society. For every dollar invested into education, it creates $8 more, and it creates a skilled and valuable population. There’s no reason we shouldn’t be funding college. Look at our primary and secondary school, they pay for school up until high school. We have these great support systems for students who are underserved but then suddenly all those support systems fall by the wayside until they have a degree or a job that can MAYBE pull them out of poverty. It’s unconscionable that we can live in a society where people aren’t given tools that can provide a nice life for their family.”

Hifza Hameed, Brooklyn College

I am a freshman at Brooklyn College. I’m currently undecided. But I hope to major in something that will guarantee a job as soon as possible, so I’ll probably major in something STEM-related. I always knew I had to study and get a higher education so I could be financially independent, move out, and live my life on my own terms. 

I currently receive a Pell Grant and TAP. I am the first woman in my family to go to college. I hate the anxiety of filling out my FAFSA when I don’t know how much money I’ll receive. I don’t know why I received less money this year too. The financial aid I receive covers my tuition, textbooks and lab fees. But it does not cover rent, food, and living expenses. I don’t have a job right now but I am looking for one so that I can cover the added expenses of college that people don’t normally consider. I’d never be able to pay rent and pay tuition at the same time. That’s why I still live with my family. TAP should be expanded so that students can better focus on their studies and worry less about the added expenses of education.