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Megan, SUNY New Paltz

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I am a double major: Sociology with a concentration in Criminology and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. As a senior at SUNY New Paltz, I’m not yet sure what I will be doing after graduation. I will likely be moving back home with my parents and working on Long Island in order to save money and plan for the future. I am paying for school through loans. I work about 34 hours a week between my two paid jobs. I also have an unpaid internship. Although I have worked throughout all four years of college, it is likely that I will have very little saved upon graduation as I have to spend my money on costs like groceries and rent.  I pay for books myself or share the cost/book with a classmate.

If I did not receive financial aid, I would be taking out more loans and therefore graduate with even worse debt than I will already be facing. Since I am a transfer student, a large sum of credits from my former university were not accepted at SUNY New Paltz. I did not think I would be able to graduate on time but am doing so by taking 18-credit course loads and enrolling in summer and winter classes that are not covered by financial aid.

We need fully funded SUNY and CUNY because education should be treated as a right, not a privilege. It is unacceptable that cuts are being made to opportunity programs that assist students who need the most support. More than that, it is disheartening that students like myself have to work multiple jobs on top of taking classes and being involved in our campus communities. We are over-worked, lack sleep and are sometimes malnourished.

Although I am extraordinarily busy, I make time for NYPIRG in order to advocate for things like fully-funded higher education and voter rights with the hope that generations to come don’t have to face the same struggles as myself and many of my peers. My story is not unique and absolutely not the worst of the pack. There are students who are responsible for going to school, paying for their livelihood (rent, groceries, medicine, etc.) who are also responsible for supporting their families at home, whether it be parents, siblings or children. Fully-funded SUNY and CUNY would alleviate the stressors that cause many students to drop-out of college. They would likely also increase enrollment rates, as money and/or lack of access to financial aid is one of the major reasons people choose not to go to college. Education is a right! And we will continue to fight, fight, fight!

Christy Suquitana, Queens College

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I am currently a freshman majoring  in political science and minoring in Urban Studies. After graduation, I plan on going to law school.  I pay for tuition through TAP and Pell Grants, and my parents assist me with the costs of textbooks. TAP only covers four years of financial aid, so I must take fifteen credits per semester to graduate on time. If TAP would cover summer and winter courses then it would lighten my load over the fall and spring semesters. Along with being a full time college student, I also work part time to financially assist my family.  It is nearly impossible to make college my first priority when I feel overwhelmed with the overload of credits and working.

CUNY and SUNY should be fully funded, so that specifically my two siblings will not have to feel pressured to work in order to afford college. In terms of my college experience, CUNY needs to be better funded. I had difficulty registering for a calculus class which I needed to fulfill a core requirement.

Additionally, finding an academic adviser who will be able to give me accurate advice is very hard. At the beginning of my Freshman year, I had a question regarding financial aid. One adviser gave me inaccurate advice which almost caused me to lose my financial aid due to the fact, that there are not enough advisers for the amount of students. She had to rush when giving me advice in order to make time for the long line of students waiting to be advised. This budget deficit at CUNY could have had detrimental effects on my college career.

Tony Guardado, City College of NY

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I am a junior studying Biology and plan to go to veterinary school. I receive TAP and the Pell Grant. 

I also have a job which pays for my textbooks and food. 

I used to get a refund check from financial aid that helped but I no longer get that.  If I didn’t receive financial aid I probably wouldn’t be in school.

Andreina Martinez, City College of NY

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I am a senior majoring in Physiology and minoring in Latin Studies. I’m graduating in May. I plan on getting a job in politics after college so I have a couple of internships with legislators in my community. I am a SEEK student so I get some help from financial aid. I receive the Pell Grant and work here at school as a tutor. I pay for textbooks and food with that money.

Without financial aid I would not be in school. Last year I was concerned with tuition being raised that I would have to take out a loan but I managed my classes so that my financial aid didn’t run out.  A lot of things in high school I took for granted. Like for instance, in high school, you get a metro card provided and don’t have to pay $130 every month. Textbooks are very expensive in college and even if you rent them they cost a lot of money. It’s hard trying to maintain a decent lifestyle like trying to eat healthy and those things while being in school full time or part time. I often still do not have enough money to eat.

A fully funded CUNY would give a lot of opportunity to people who can’t afford it who maybe didn’t have any kind of financial aid programs. Without financial aid a lot of us wouldn’t even be here today.

Indigo Crittendon, City College of NY

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I am a senior studying International Studies. I will likely be doing advocacy work after college. I get TAP and Pell. Even with financial aid, I still need three jobs to pay for food, textbooks and other expenses. I’m a dog walker, a nanny, and I also clean.

If I didn’t receive financial aid I probably wouldn’t be in school. My biggest struggle in college is money, just trying to survive day to day. 

Salsabill Mostafa, City College of NY

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This is my second bachelor’s degree. Even though I do get some financial aid, it does not cover my whole tuition. I’m in a difficult position since I’m a full-time student it’s not possible for me to also work full-time. I work part-time and that’s just enough to get me by with my expenses. Then the question arises, how do I pay the rest of my tuition after TAP because I don’t get any Pell. So, I ask for loans, I ask for private loans, I ask for federal loans.

It’s just so unfortunate because even if I’m a second degree student, this is a public institution and education is a public right and is a civil right. Not only should we be taken care of for our first degree, but anytime we want to further our education, further our life. Whether it’s a second degree or graduate level studies, we should not be paying out of pocket. My first degree was from Brooklyn College. For my first degree, my tuition was covered by Pell and by TAP.

It feels like you are always stuck it feels like you will never move on with your life. I live under a decent standard of living. Sometimes I do end up borrowing money from my parents. I have difficulty buying books, I barely get to buy my textbooks, the commute is an issue. This makes life very difficult, spending your energies in places where you should not be.

Ariyah Adams, SUNY New Paltz

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I am currently a junior majoring  in communications with a concentration in public relations and double minoring in theater and business. I pay for tuition through TAP and Pell Grants, as well as take out loans to cover the the rest of my bill. After I graduate I plan on attending graduate school at either SUNY New  Paltz or a different SUNY. I am still undecided about that. I plan on paying for graduate school through applying for grants and scholarships.

Right now I am working two jobs, I work at the dining hall on campus and I have a work study job. I don’t depend on money from my parents so usually I pay for my textbooks and food on my own or a split the cost of the textbook with a friend or classmate in the same class as me. I am also a student at the Educational Opportunity Program at my school which has helped me a lot, getting through navigating financial aid. If this program didn’t exist I’m not sure if I would be in college. The EOP program has helped me grow into a strong individual and has offered me tutoring, mentors and advisors that always have my back.

Stephanie Moy, Hunter College

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I go to Hunter College, double majoring in Environmental Studies and Urban Studies, and minoring in Asian American Studies. I would like to preface this by clarifying that although my story will sound oddly similar to other students’ experiences with college, it is not a testament of how poorly we manage our time, but rather it is a multitude of personal and systematic circumstances that make us have to work that much harder to leave college successfully with degrees.

Tuition has been going up every year, yet the quality of education is remaining stagnant. Having been at Hunter for nearly four years, I have seen a decrease in diversity and availability of course offerings throughout the semesters, making it harder to finish elective requirements for my majors. In addition to that, I have lost all my financial aid in the last two years of college, even though FAFSA has been asking for the same tax forms with the same necessary information.

To go from having my financial aid covering the entirety of my tuition to having absolutely no funding, it has been an extreme financial burden. As a full time student with an internship and volunteer extracurricular activities, working a part time job in order to fund my education is another stressor making it all the more difficult to have a successful higher education career. Because of the limited course selections, it makes it more difficult to rearrange my class schedules to allow availability for a part time job.

For my first three years of college, I was working not only as a server three to four days a week, but also as an usher. After attending classes and doing all my extracurriculars in the morning and afternoon, I would have to rush to work, work another seven to eight hours, suffer through immense nightly train delays, and get home at 2 or 3am, only to study and do more schoolwork.

Losing my financial aid and having to pay the ever increasing cost of tuition has compromised not only my educational success in college, but also my mental and physical health. For years, I was only getting two the three hours of sleep maximum, if any at all. In addition to that, there were days I did not have time to meal prep and bring lunch from home, leaving me no choice, but to either buy lunch at school or skip out on meals because I simply could not afford it. This is why CUNY schools need more funding for more opportunities to expand financial aid programs.

Ismael Ali, Hunter College

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I am a junior at Hunter College majoring in Political Science with a minor in Black Studies. I am also the first person in my family to go to college. Right now, my main priority is to graduate as soon as possible so I can get a job to provide for my family and pay my student loans.

I was first a college student at SUNY New Paltz where I was part of the Education Opportunity Program (EOP). One of my main challenges at New Paltz was the price of textbooks. Even though I was working two on-campus jobs, I found myself spending two thirds of my paycheck towards textbooks. I addressed the issue to my EOP advisor, who cared and loved me like their own, and they were able to help me with an EOP book voucher. This voucher helped me to pay for the rest of my school supplies. The downside is that this book voucher is limited. I know that I am one of so many students who struggle with textbook costs.

In the fall of 2018, I transferred to Hunter College. The first thing that comes to mind when people ask me why I transferred is the fact that the cost of tuition at SUNY New Paltz was overwhelming. As a full-time college student, it was impossible for me to get a job that would cover my tuition so every semester I had to take out loans.  

I’m now in SEEK. Like EOP, Search for Education Elevation and Knowledge Program (SEEK) helps me with my textbooks and provides me with an advisor. Thanks to the SEEK program, my transition from New Paltz to Hunter College was very smooth. This is why we need true leadership from our representatives to defend and expand opportunity programs.

Mikee Villanueva, Hunter College

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I am currently a senior double majoring in Political Studies and Urban Studies. I do not qualify for the TAP and Pell grants, but I do receive a small scholarship from Hunter since I am part of the Roosevelt Scholars Program. While the scholarship helped me in paying my tuition, I still struggle to make ends meet. I currently work two jobs, totaling to around 40 hours per week, in order to finish paying off my tuition. I also try to help my family out with expenses at home since both my parents are not working.

Since I work two jobs, I find it hard to make time to focus on my studies. There have been countless times where I had to choose between calling off for work in order to study for a test and risk losing my job, or to go to work, pull an all-nighter to study and hope that I studied enough to do well in the class.

If I had a larger scholarship, I would not have to work 40 hours a week. Instead, I could focus more time on my studies and other opportunities that would help me in developing my future.