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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.

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.

Maddy Soanes, SUNY New Paltz

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I am a Political Science major and Sociology minor at SUNY New Paltz. I am a first year student with sophomore standing. I was awarded the SUNY New Paltz Presidential Scholarship, which helps with my tuition, however, my family does not qualify for any state financial aid, so the full burden of paying for my education falls on my family. After graduating from New Paltz, I hope to go on to attend law school, for which I will be fully financially responsible. I aspire to one day work for an international advocacy group.

We need fully funded SUNY and CUNY because there are people who struggle to cover their everyday expenses, and are not even able to think about affording higher education. We need fully funded SUNY and CUNY because of the current importance of having a degree; it is almost impossible to get a decent job without at least a Bachelor’s degree. SUNY is necessary for people who hope to create a better future for themselves without having to be thousands of dollars in debt.

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.

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.

Monique Ritchie, Queensborough Community College

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South African leader Nelson Mandela once said, “Education is the most powerful weapon in which you can use to change the world.” Since I started my education at Queensborough Community College in fall 2016, I’ve realized my growth and the importance of having a college degree. In the future, I would like to become an attorney, to advocate justice for those less fortunate.

Currently, I’m enrolled in the ASAP program and I am a TAP and Pell recipient. I could not imagine coming to school without financial aid and opportunity programs that help support and pay for my schooling. Without these I would probably be more focused on working long hours to pay off tuition, than on classes and experiences that would be beneficial to my career later on. I want tuition hikes to be ended and higher education in New York to be fully funded so everyone will have the chance to get a fair education and further themselves like I am.

Winnie Lei, City College of NY

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I am a freshman at CUNY City College. My major is currently undeclared but I am exploring my options by taking a diverse range of classes. I do not have a job but would like to get one in the future to support my daily needs. Due to my parents’ income, I do not qualify for financial assistance and do not receive any TAP or Pell Grants.

Although CUNY’s tuition is lower than other schools, my parents have to pay all the school costs for both my brother and I, which places a significant burden on their shoulders. I do not qualify for the Excelsior Scholarship because my household income is slightly above the limit. I am able to pay for textbooks and weekly meals but the costs continuously add up. I am only a freshman so I have three more years of tuition, textbooks, and other costs left to pay in order to continue my higher education. As a result, my biggest challenge is not my classes, but being able to pay for the classes I need in order to graduate.