Report estimates cost of free CUNY community colleges

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The Independent Budget Office released a report estimating the cost of free community colleges at CUNY—$138 to $232 million per year.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams requested the report, and it is an idea President Barack Obama raised during the 2015 State of the Union address.

“I want to spread that idea all across America, so that two years of college becomes as free and universal in America as high school is today,” Obama said.

Adams felt concerned many New York City residents cannot access affordable, educational opportunities. This may cause problems for the city’s economy.

“For many students, the cost of tuition prevents them from completing an associate’s degree or substantially delays their completion,” Adams said. “As a result, thousands of people each year are denied the benefits of graduation, which would allow them to achieve the American Dream and robustly contribute to our economy.”

Adams said the potential idea of free community college at CUNY would offer long-term benefits to the city and its residents.

“By reducing the tuition burden for city residents who attend our community colleges and providing the critical services that support our students, we will start to build success upon success, expanding opportunity for graduating classes of today and tomorrow,” Adams said.

Out of the 24 colleges in CUNY, seven are community colleges with Queensborough Community College and LaGuardia Community College as examples. Ending tuition at those universities would depend on a number of factors, said Raymond Domanico, who worked on the report.

“We found that the cost of the program would depend upon the length of time that a student would be allowed to participate and whether part-time students would be eligible,” he said.

The estimates in the report assume state and federal funding will continue to the community colleges. If revenues decline or end because of a local tuition assistance program, the cost would rise.

But the IBO did not expect changes in enrollment or attendance behavior. Moreover, it was not able to predict how many students would likely enroll in or transfer to community college as an alternative to senior colleges. Domanico did acknowledge that the cost would rise as a result.

“We anticipate that a tuition-free program would likely induce some students to enroll in community college rather than the senior colleges. To the extent that they did, the cost would rise. We are unable to predict how many students would make that switch,” Domanico said.

The IBO also could not determine the impact on graduation rates for the program.

The report found benefits to an associate’s degree. For example, technical education and health fields offer high incomes for graduates.

While President Obama pushed tuition-free community college last year, no New York City official expressed interest in making it happen.

“While the Borough President has endorsed the concept of tuition-free community college at CUNY, there are currently no active proposals in either the City Council or the Mayor’s budget proposals,” Domanico said.

Adams said, in light of the IBO findings, efforts to eliminate tuition at CUNY community college could happen.

“The IBO’s analysis reinforces my belief that tuition-free community college is the future for New York City, and it is time to take steps toward achieving it,” Adams said.

Phil Vallone

Phil is a junior majoring in Political Science and minoring in Journalism. He is also a Marine Corps veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2013. He covers events and activism at CUNY. After graduating, he plans to cover politics and activism around the world. You can follow him on Twitter @philvallone or on Facebook at Contact him at philvallo[at]

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