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CUNY was free for all undergraduate students from its inception in 1847 to 1976, when a citywide financial crisis prompted the university to start charging tuition. What is described as simply a ‘fiscal crisis’ has heavily rooted ties in systemic racism. Shortly after black and brown students fought and earned the right to attend CUNY, the CUNY student body grew and diversified significantly. 

Local elected officials were hesitant to raise taxes to provide CUNY with the funding it needed for growing enrollment rates, in part because during the same period, the state-sponsored ‘white-flight’ to the suburbs had eroded the tax base and at the same time, the inflationary market made the issuance of municipal bonds impossible.  Federal officials also refused to provide more funding to the city for services it was providing, presumably because they were serving many people of color, because the federal money continued to roll for state-sponsored ‘slum-clearance’ and other subsidies for infrastructure that supported white suburbs and corporations. The infamous “Ford to City: Drop Dead,” headline is from this time.  

Essentially, the free and well-funded CUNY that had worked well for an all-white student body for over a century suddenly became “too expensive.” The decision to start charging tuition continued the story of racism in the CUNY system. That racism and fiscal austerity has persisted at CUNY for decades, including under Governor Cuomo and Kathy Hochul today. We are fighting for the New Deal for CUNY to reverse this racism and restore CUNY as an accessible and functional school for working class New Yorkers who want to receive a post-secondary degree.

About the New Deal for CUNY

The New Deal for CUNY bill (S2146/A05843A) mandates more than adequate staffing ratios, specifically requiring that CUNY meet a ratio of 1 mental health counselor for every 1000 students by academic year 2026, and 1 academic advisor for every 600 students by academic year 2025. This is estimated to cost $40 million over 5 years and would be a recurring cost.

When recruiting faculty, CUNY will need to prioritize minorities and adjunct faculty, and all campuses must meet a reporting requirement. The bills also include increasing adjunct faculty pay to be commensurate to that of current non-adjunct faculty, based upon hours, duties, and level of responsibility. This is estimated to cost about $636.5 million over 5 years and would be a recurring cost.

The bill also requires the state to come up with 5 year capital plans for CUNY and fund the building maintenance our schools desperately need. This would be expected to conform to other standards, including new visions for emissions-free campuses that run on renewable energy. If implemented with the creativity and care that CUNY students deserve, we imagine inspiring changes to our current campuses that make them centers of innovation that are prized by the city. Following this vision, we expect this cost to reach $5.2 billion over 5 years.  Some of these costs would be recurring, but the majority would not.

The bill also removes all tuition and fees for CUNY students.  There are some restrictions about the number of years over which students can receive tuition-free education. This is estimated to cost $796 million over 5 years and would be a recurring cost.

Albany divides the budget between “Operational” and “Capital.” In total the New Deal for CUNY would cost this much over 5 years per category:

$1.5 billion in Operational

$5.2 billion in Capital

What does this mean for students?

  • Free college tuition – education is a human right!
  • Better student and faculty experiences:
    • Improved ratio of counselors to students so you get the academic help you need, and the support you might need for stress and other factors in your life.
    • Better pay for adjunct faculty and more faculty in general
    • Improved faculty hiring practices (minorities will be prioritized)
  • Improved physical infrastructure (public spaces, buildings, classrooms, elevators, etc) so the campuses are places where students want to hangout and can learn and create productively with their professors, staff, and community members