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Nicole L Isaac , NYC College of Technology

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Without financial aid I probably wouldn’t even be at school. I am concerned about graduating on time, because I wouldn’t be able to pay for it by myself. When I first started, I applied for financial aid and then I found out later that I hadn’t applied to TAP, so I applied for TAP and that took care of my outstanding balance [for my tuition], but now I have another outstanding balance.

I still have to pay out of pocket for all of my books. With an account balance, if it’s not payed or taken care of, they put holds on your account, which hinders you from even registering for classes. With an account balance, there’s no way you can even be in class. So that’s a big issue that I and a lot of students are facing in CUNY.

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.

Flor Najera, SUNY New Paltz

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I am a Public Relations major and Journalism minor.  I intend to graduate in December 2019. After college, I plan on attaining a stable job where I will pursue marketing and get a place of my own. However, I am not ruling out graduate school. I pay for school through financial aid as well as the two loans I took out. I feel blessed to be a part of the EOP program, where I have had an advisor and group of students in similar positions as me for the last four years helping me navigate the SUNY system.  I receive TAP and work study – I work at the student union front desk. I pay for textbooks through financial aid and receive a refund check of $150 per semester. In the case of that not being enough to afford all textbooks, I will turn to scanning or finding the electronic version.

Help also comes from Alumni donations to EOP that are applied toward paying for books.  I live on campus and have a meal plan that is paid for within financial aid. I do not make use of the childcare center located on campus, as I do not have any children. However, I still find the center to be beneficial because some of my professors bring their children there so they can teach for the day, which in turn allows me to receive an education. If I did not receive financial aid, I would still find a way to attend college, whether that be working as many shifts as possible, applying for scholarships, and loans.  It is important for me to receive at least a bachelor’s degree because of the difference it makes having one vs. not having one in the real world.

My family and I are immigrants. I am fortunate that I am able to attend college and receive a degree, and I am one of the first in my family to achieve this. My brothers did not go to college and had to work straight out of high school to help out my family financially. It’s tough because most businesses are expanding their credential requirements, most requiring a Bachelor’s and Master’s degree. How can we work toward achieving what is required of us if it is not made available?


Suraiya Priyanka, Hunter College

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I am a second semester freshman at Hunter College and currently undeclared because I’m narrowing down which major interests me most. I am trying to graduate college as soon as possible, which means I have to take 15 credits per semester, but that is very difficult when you also have to work and support your parents. I receive financial aid from TAP and Excelsior, but that only covers my tuition and Excelsior only gives me a few hundred dollars. I considered applying for ASAP since it would’ve been very helpful to me, but it is not offered at my college. I have to pay for my other expenses including textbooks, food, and transportation.

In my four people household, my dad is the only one that works full time and I work a part time job two days a week. If I decided to prioritize earning money and worked a couple extra days, I wouldn’t be able to focus on school and graduate on time. I already struggle to pay for food, textbooks, and transportation so if I didn’t receive aid to cover my tuition, I would not be able to go to college at all. In high school, I didn’t have to worry about all these things and all of a sudden, with all of this pressure being put on me, I constantly find myself trying to balance school and work and am left with no time to relax. Taking 5 classes every semester and also working is too much to handle and as a result, I am concerned that I won’t be able to do well in school or graduate on time.

We need a fully funded CUNY because many students depend on it. New York City is filled with low-income students and families who choose CUNY because it is advertised as a more affordable option, when in reality it is not. So far, my biggest challenge with being a CUNY student has been financial aid. If all my college expenses were paid for and covered by the government, I would be able to focus a lot more on my education and not have to stress about my finances. CUNY needs to be free again because New Yorkers need free public college now more than ever before.

Lashanna Chance, Queensborough Community College

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I have been at Queensborough for two years studying music production. I am very invested in my classes but also produce and write my own music and poetry. I want people to see that I am a student, not a disability and actually working toward my goal of one day owning a record label. I am lucky to have great support at home and at QCC.

I do receive financial aid and I make sure I utilize every resource on campus. My advisers for VAPA (Visual and Preforming Arts) academy know me very well and help me to register for classes. I go to tutoring every day for statistics and writing. Everyone on campus knows me because I bother everyone. That is the only way to get help sometimes. My greatest issue here is getting around comfortably. I don’t even go to the student union where the NYPIRG office is because it is actually dangerous for me to wheel myself. 

For me, full funding for CUNY would mean open sourced or cheaper textbooks. Most of my books I can just get in the library, but it isn’t easy for me to get to the library, find a book and study with it for two hours. It is always too crowded and isn’t worth my time, so I just order my books. Also, accessibility could be way better. Most doors are not automatic. The double doors close on me. I’m pretty strong, but yesterday I was struggling to get through a door for 5 minutes! When elevators are broken, that is the worst. I have to leave for my class at least 45 minutes early from anywhere on campus just to make sure I get there on time. An unexpected broken elevator can be a big problem. 

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.

Ariana Hernandez, College of Staten Island

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I am currently a sophomore in my second semester majoring in Psychology at the College of Staten Island. I am worried about actually graduating on time with the problems I’ve had with my financial aid. Last semester I received aid from TAP and Pell; however, my financial aid has been taken away from me now.

I decided to change my major a few months ago, and, despite being told that this would not affect my financial aid, I got a notice at the start of the semester that there weren’t enough credits for financial aid to cover me. This left other financial opportunity programs such as Excelsior, ASAP, and SEEK out of my reach as well. Right now, my parents are paying out of pocket to keep me in college, and sooner or later we might have to start taking out student loans, which I really don’t want to do. In addition, I might not even have enough credits to graduate on time, and I think winter and summer courses are going to be a massive toll on me, financially and mentally.

The fact that programs like TAP are not offered to winter and summer students leaves me stuck between not wanting to become a financial burden on my family and wanting to graduate as quickly as possible. The financial burden of living expenses such as textbooks, utilities, and food on campus really impacts what I’m going to do in the future. I believe a fully funded CUNY could give passionate and driven students the opportunity to attend and graduate from college without having to worry about the costs. I want a higher quality education in New York, so that everyone has a chance to plan for their dream job in the future.

Fadly Cherif, Buffalo State

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I am a junior with a double major in Political Science and Psychology, as well as a minor in International Relations. I came to the United States in 2015 seeking a better education. As an international student, I don’t get financial aid, I don’t get loans, and there are restrictions on how long and where I can work.  New York State’s disinvestment in state colleges has affected me in multiple ways. The lack of funding has resulted in overworked professors who don’t have time to assist students as much as they need to, crowded classrooms and health center, and expensive textbooks.

I’ve been working part time at the writing help center on campus to support myself while getting help from my parents to put myself through college. However, the college expenses are sometimes too much. For the past two years I’ve gone through my classes without ever getting the required textbooks. I would either rent them from third parties or borrow a friend’s. The state needs to fund colleges so as to minimize costs for students of all socio-economic backgrounds.