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Reanna, Hunter College

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When I first started high school, I knew the scholarship I needed to receive. If I didn’t get it, there was a chance I wouldn’t be going to college. After four years of dedicating my life to studying, taking AP classes (with tests I could barely afford to take), and eliminating any chance of a social life which could distract me from my schoolwork, I am proud to say I received the private scholarship I dreamed of. So I did all that and burned myself completely before even going to college. While I was extremely grateful for the scholarship that would help me with tuition, I had no idea that financial burden was inescapable in college.

I am currently a sophomore at Hunter College. I came to Hunter as a pre-med student, but being so burned out freshman year, I saw my A+s that I got in high school transform into Cs. My scholarship was threatened and I was devastated. At the beginning of sophomore year, I decided to try anthropology courses and I fell in love. However, I had to get a part-time job to pay for my monthly metro cards and textbooks. Working almost every night after class drained every bit of energy I had and I could barely stay awake while studying. I struggle to maintain the 3.5 GPA that my scholarship requires me to maintain. Textbooks, especially online textbook codes have destroyed my bank account. Food and transportation remain major struggles. Why do students have to pay over one hundred dollars each month just to be able to get to their classes or to attend their jobs so they can have money to pay for all the costs of being a student?

I dream of getting a PhD in Anthropology and becoming an archaeologist. However, field schools for archaeology are extremely expensive and fieldwork is usually done abroad. I have no way of paying to travel to obtain these experiences and I fear being in major debt. I am honestly afraid of graduate school, as I know that the extreme financial burden that awaits.

Leidy Gallo, Queens College

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I was previously a part of ASAP and received stipends for textbooks and metro cards. I got tuition covered and with receiving the Pell Grant, I had money leftover that went toward gas and food.

This was my first semester at QC, and I get financial aid to cover my tuition, but it’s my first time having to pay for textbooks. The bill came to $380. There was an Italian book I needed. So one of my friends made copies for me this semester luckily. I had a larger refund when I was in ASAP which meant that extra money could go towards my son- clothing, gas, rent, food.  

I’ve had to budget a lot more this semester. I wasn’t able to buy a laptop that I needed for school. I try to use my phone to write essays which is horrendous. I got a zero on a paper because it didn’t go through on my phone and I don’t have a laptop. If I still had the support of ASAP, I’d have more leftover Pell money and could’ve bought a laptop and avoided this problem and future problems.

Neely Benoit, SUNY Cortland

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I’m a Professional Writing major with a minor in Anthropology, and this is my fifth year here at SUNY Cortland. I’m planning to go to grad school after this to study Anthropology and Political Science. Right now, I take out private loans. I think I got the Pell Grant for about a semester, and it was only like $50. I don’t receive TAP, and I couldn’t even qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship.

I’m a student director in one of the campus buildings, and I also pick up shifts at Auxiliary Services as a floater. So I’ll wash dishes or cook chicken on the grill for six hours straight. In general, I work anywhere between 12 to 25 hours a week. I’m always looking for more work because I don’t get any money for rent or food, and that takes away from study time and homework.

I applied for food stamps, but I wasn’t eligible because I didn’t work enough to qualify. They don’t take into consideration that I’m also a full-time student. I’m already a year late to graduate, but I’ll be on track to graduate this year. If it wasn’t for working so much, I’m sure I would’ve graduated on time for my degree. We need a fully-funded SUNY so people like me can graduate on time and not have to worry about going to grad school because of all the private loans they’ve already taken out. I’m walking away from undergraduate degree with almost $100,000 worth of student debt. And that’s from a state school. I’ve already started paying those loans off for three years already. That’s another thing I pay for with work, besides car insurance, my car payment, internet, electricity, rent, food, and textbooks.

I don’t pay more than $300 a semester in books. If a semester cost me more than 300 bucks in textbooks, I would weigh which books are more valuable and get rid of the other ones. There are also some classes that require fees in order to take them. I took art for three semesters, and that was $200 for each course each time, totaling $600. And that doesn’t even cover materials. It covered studio space and workshop equipment.

My biggest challenge as a SUNY student has been finances. I worry more about my finances than I do about passing each class. I know I’m at a major disadvantage in class because I have to work so much more just to make sure that I have a roof over my head while I’m in school, or just to make sure the internet doesn’t cut off so that we can finish our homework. I think if we had a much lower tuition or if there were less hurtles to have to jump through for a student like me, then I might be able to not be in as much debt, and then I would be able to go to grad school without the fear of not just getting rejected, but also of it not being paid for.

Rodney Colon, City College of NY

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I get financial aid but it’s tooth and nail fighting for it. Because the financial aid office is so understaffed it can be very challenging to get the aid I need. I waited an entire semester to get my refund check. I spent money on a credit card to buy textbooks.

The elevators are horrific, like I’m disabled, the elevators and the escalators are never functioning. They do these band-aid fixes and they’re constantly still in disrepair. 

I take the shuttle from the subway station, it is reliable but it gets super packed, they definitely need more buses.

Evelyn Marks, SUNY Cortland

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I’m a Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages (TESOL) major at SUNY Cortland, but before that I was an Adolescent Education major. I’m kind of a “super duper senior” because I graduated more than 2 years ago with a B.A. in English, which makes me a non-traditional student.

I have two plans that I could go for after graduating. I could get my master’s here at Cortland and then go to New York City to teach, or the second plan is basically going abroad and teaching. I pay for college with loans and work. I used to receive TAP and the Pell Grant when I was initially going to college, but I don’t receive them anymore.

I work part-time at Walmart, roughly 20 hours a week. Last year I worked full-time and could barely balance my workload between classes and work. This year it’s a lot easier to balance the workload. I get my textbooks through the inter-library loan, which is awesome because you don’t have to pay a million dollars for books. I use whatever money I have leftover from work for food, even though right now I don’t have a lot of money for that, either. I was going to apply for SNAP, but I heard that college kids aren’t always eligible.

Even if I didn’t receive financial aid for college I would still go, considering that’s what I’ve been doing for the past couple of years, but I am concerned about graduating on time. Some of the classes I need to take actually conflict with other classes I need, which means I have to push my graduation date out a year, essentially. I think SUNY/CUNY should be free because I think that students shouldn’t have to worry about scraping together money for college when they should be trying to perform better in classes.

Josh Mazariegos, SUNY Cortland

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I am finishing my final year as a Teaching English as a Second Language major with a minor in Spanish. After Cortland I plan on moving back to Columbia to be an English professor.

I do receive some financial help from the Pell Grant, but I still have to work year-round to cover the other expenses, like all of the textbooks I need for my classes. I typically work full-time in the summer months, and I also work at Neubig Dining Hall between classes to get by. As far as food goes, I do have a meal plan that I have to pay for out- of pocket, but I also work in one of the dining halls so I’m not a big fan of working around the same food I have to eat.

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!

Nagdeska Paulino, SUNY New Paltz

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I am a junior, and I am majoring in Sociology with two minors in Anthropology and Women’s Gender and Sexuality Studies. I do not have any idea about what I am doing after college, but a plan I briefly contemplated is going for my Master’s and teaching sociology. So far, half of my tuition and other school bills have been paid by grants like Pell and TAP and the other half has been loans.

I am not a part of any opportunity programs; EOP would have been nice but the program rejected me because my high school GPA was one point too high. I have a work study job that does not really produce anything substantial; we’re halfway through the semester and I have not received one check. Honestly, I have been flat broke for a while so I finessed textbooks this semester and managed to get all but one of them for free.

I only use my meal plan for food but if I did not have enough financial aid to pay for it, I would probably only eat once a day. I don’t think I’m concerned about graduating on time but it would not surprise me if I had to stay longer than I would like to. A fully funded SUNY would be beneficial since I would not feel as though I’m walking with a -$30,000 above my head every day. Just the thought of the loans I’ve already accumulated, only two years into my degree, makes me want to not do my work. This morphs into procrastination and we all know how that goes. My biggest challenges have been having to decide which assignments are more worth printing out since my printing quota is depreciating quickly and wanting to go home but having no money for a trailways ticket.   

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.