Members of CUNY’s union, the Professional Staff Congress and local officials are attempting to make CUNY tuition-free again.
When CUNY was established in 1847, tuition did not exist. Matriculated students were able to attend the university for free and non-matriculated students paid a small fee to attend night classes.
This changed in 1976 after a financial crisis and a shift in the funding of the university.
PSC communications coordinator Fran Clark believes that the current progression of tuition hikes is what launched one of the biggest talking points of this year’s presidential election.
“In the last 10-15 years or so, the dramatic increase in the cost of education and the rising burden of student debt on many students and families has made the issue important for this generation and important in politics right now,” Clark said.
National and local debates about free higher education have lead to a discussion in the CUNY system about a potential return to free tuition for students.
Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton is campaigning for free public tuition for students from households with an income less than $125,000 per year, and City Council Member Inez Barron lead the discussion about the possibility of free tuition at CUNY in June 2016.
The PSC feels that it is their role to assist both the faculty and the students in maintaining a quality and affordable education.
“We are a voice to articulate the importance of access to quality education for the students at CUNY. Being the organization that represents the faculty and staff, we serve a half million students at CUNY,” Clark said. “We have a role to play in speaking out on their behalf.”
According to a CUNY report, in 2015 there were approximately 245,279 undergraduate students enrolled throughout its community and senior colleges.
Clark said that 70 percent of CUNY students receive financial aid, lowering the burden of attending the university; however, that does not account for the estimated 84,000 part time students who do not qualify for any financial aid.
The PSC works with the CUNY Rising Alliance program and together they have established a CUNY student Bill of Rights fighting for free public higher education, high quality instruction, support to aid retention and completion, and safe and modern learning environments in repair.
“Every New Yorker should have access to a free, high-quality public higher education, the surest path to economic opportunity, financial security, and intellectual and personal growth,” The Bill of Rights states on the PSC website.
The PSC believes that free tuition is only a portion of the focus for the union in improving the educational experience for CUNY students.
Clark believes that CUNY needs to allocate resources for better student support services, academic advisement, mental health counseling, and investment in full time faculty.
Currently, full time faculty teach only approximately 47 percent of courses offered.
“CUNY needs more than free tuition, it needs the resources to provide a free and quality education,” Clark said. “So we need an overall larger budget for the university that allows for both investment in free education and investment in quality.”
The PSC wants students to know that there are a number of ways to get involved with the CUNY free movement – voting in elections, signing the petition being launched by the CUNY Rising Alliance and endorsing the CUNY Student Bill of Rights.
The CUNY Rising Alliance will be hosting a town hall meeting in November for students to get involved. Clark also stressed that meeting with elected officials when they visit campus and talking to them about what it takes to be successful at CUNY, as well as how tuition can be a burden for students and families, can be beneficial as well.
Clark emphasized the impact CUNY students have on New York City is vital in multiple ways.
“You can see the huge contribution that CUNY graduates make to the cultural and economic life our city,” Clark said. “When you look at that you can understand that this is an investment worth making.”