Simon Sympathetic To CUNY Students Call For Tuition Freeze

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State Assembly Member Jo Anne Simon (D-Brooklyn Heights, Downtown Brooklyn, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Park Slope, Boerum Hill, DUMBO) visited CUNY’s City Tech campus in Downtown Brooklyn to hear from students who are being impacted by the state’s failure to fully fund CUNY’s and SUNY’s many campuses across the city. 

Here is a breakdown of the situation she heard:

Each year, CUNY receives funding from the federal, city, and state levels, leaving students and the school to cover any additional costs. Last year, the state-funded 53% of the school’s total costs with a large portion of that money going towards the Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP. 

In the 2018-2019 school year, tuition per student at CUNY was $6,730 per student, and TAP awarded students in need of financial aid $5,165. This created a tuition gap of $1,730 that must be covered by the school per state law. 

As tuition goes up each year and TAP awards remain the same, the gap continues to grow. For the current school year, this gap sits at about 88 million dollars. To stop the TAP gap from growing, CUNY’s student senate is calling for a tuition freeze and for the state to add an additional $36 million dollars to the budget. 

Juvanie Piquant, vice-chair of Legislative Affairs for University Student Senate. Photo by Owen Maldonado

Juvanie Piquant, vice-chair of legislative affairs for the University Student Senate, is working to help students understand why tuition is growing but services are falling. “The TAP gap is forcing CUNY to take money out of its own budget to keep the college running,” she explains. “They could be using that money to support the students.”

Over the last ten years, while attendance to the school and tuition has steadily gone up, the state’s funding has actually decreased per student, and students are finding themselves paying more money for less services. 

Students at CUNY and SUNY are feeling these cuts in real ways every day as they see library hours and student services cut, broken windows and elevators remaining unrepaired, and the number of faculty dropping. 

“We have students who are food insecure, and we have students sleeping on campuses throughout CUNY,” said Piquant, who is calling for students to engage in direct action by joining the Student Government Association’s volunteer committee. “Governor Cuomo does not understand our struggle. He is not coming to us – we need to go to him.”

Timothy Hunter, Trustee of the Student Senate at CUNY, also wants to see more students become civically engaged to help with the challenge. “Everyone here has a state senator, a state assembly member, and a city council member that has the power to freeze the tuition this year and close the TAP gap. We need to hold them accountable,” he said. “Right here in this room there are over fifty votes — that can make or break any election.”

Simon said the city delegation is united and wants to see broader support for CUNY and SUNY beyond closing the TAP gap. “The tuition program doesn’t help if students can’t feed themselves. It doesn’t help if students can’t get themselves to school, or afford a computer and books,” she said. 

Assembly Member Simon Speaking to Students. Photo by Owen Maldonado

Simon encourages students on the volunteer committee to continue making trips to Albany where their voices can be heard. “Each of us needs to be there to make you able to have a successful higher education experience. I want you to keep coming up to tell your stories. The Governor has to be part of the audience you are looking to reach.”

With a tuition freeze, the Student Senate is hoping to see the school’s funding get redirected towards expanding basic services for students including access to laptops, tutoring, longer library hours, and campus-wide WiFi. They are also hoping to see aging infrastructure repaired and all faculty positions being filled. 

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