Since its implementation in mid-August, the CUNY Comeback Program has played an integral role in uplifting the lives of students hit hardest during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Announced by former governor Andrew Cuomo on July 28, 2021, the program is one of the largest student loans forgiveness initiatives of its kind throughout the country, having so far eliminated $95 million in unpaid tuition for over 52,000 CUNY students and alumni.
As college debt has averaged to $2,000 for CUNY students according to officials, the Comeback Program is essentially a response to both the pandemic and those facing financial hardships.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has caused hardships in the lives of so many New Yorkers, and our students were among those most impacted,” Cuomo said in the announcement. “This landmark new program eliminates millions of dollars in unpaid debt, providing much-needed relief of tens of thousands of CUNY students as they work to get back on their feet after the pandemic.”
The CUNY Comeback Program is funded by the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund, which is part of the larger CARES Act that was passed by Congress on March 25, 2020. The initiative is one of CUNY’s many efforts to help low-income students continue their education.
Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez tweeted about the program when it was announced: “On this historic day, we join @NYGovCuomo in announcing the relief from the stresses of owning money, helping to ensure a Comeback for our students, our University and our City.”
Under the relief, CUNY is automatically forgiving outstanding tuition and fee balances for students who were enrolled at a CUNY college any time from March 13, 2020, when the pandemic was declared a national emergency, to the end of the Spring 2021 semester.
This also includes recent graduates and students who dropped out after taking classes during this period to ensure equity to those who were disproportionately impacted.
While those who were chosen received an email notification and had their debt erased a couple of weeks after the announcement, CUNY also sent out applications to students who qualified on the basis of determined hardship or if they were eligible for Pell Grants and the New York State Tuition Assistance Program.
Queens College student Nancy Rubio, who was selected for the Comeback Program, expressed her sentiments in a letter to the Chancellor: “I appreciate your support during [this] difficult financial situation that I am facing right now. Now I can continue studying stress-free.”
For Rubio and students in similar situations, the CUNY Comeback Program has removed many of the financial barriers impeding their education, an aspect Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodriguez also addressed: “This compassionate action will allow CUNY students and recent graduates to move ahead in pursuit of their educational and career objectives without the specter of unpaid tuition and fees. This landmark measure will also enhance CUNY’s important contributions to New York’s economic recovery.”
CUNY had previously distributed $118 million in CARES Act funds to nearly 161,000 students in the early months of the pandemic. For the Fall 2021 semester, a third round of Student Emergency Relief Grants is also expected to be distributed under the American Rescue Plan Act.
The university system also recently suspended its long-held policy that bans colleges from releasing the official transcripts of students and graduates who owe their university unpaid tuition and fees.
As New York continues to slowly transition back to in-person operations, the Comeback Program is both reassurance to students and a reminder to long-time borough residents that CUNY continues to back up their city and stay faithful to its concrete roots.
To learn more about the CUNY Comeback Program, click here.