Earlier this month, Amazon and CUNY announced a joint educational partnership, which will help hourly employees pay for their tuition at eight CUNY schools across the five boroughs.
Through Amazon’s Career Choice Program, qualifying employees pursuing an undergraduate degree at a participating school will have their tuition, and any additional fees, such as cost of books, covered on an annual basis, no matter the major. The participating schools are Bronx Community College, Borough of Manhattan Community College, the City College of New York, the College of Staten Island, the CUNY School of Professional Studies, Kingsborough Community College, LaGuardia Community College, and Queens College.
Mayor Eric Adams estimated that thousands of New Yorkers have now gained the opportunity to further their education thanks to the largest job creator in the U.S. While 50% of CUNY students work while going to school, a job at Amazon provides a chance for New Yorkers to keep providing for their families and be able to plan for their future without having to worry about qualifying for a tuition loan, financial aid, or accruing calamitous debt.
All hourly employees become eligible for the Career Choice program 90 days after starting at Amazon, at which point the company will pay for an employee’s tuition in advance, rather than offering reimbursement after coursework completion. Employees have access to these annual funds for as long as they stay at the company and are simultaneously enrolled at a participating school. This opportunity is due to Amazon’s Upskilling 2025 Program where the company is investing more than $1.2 billion to help employees across the nation further their careers and secure lucrative positions. Additionally, they are also offering free skill training opportunities, including computing skills training to help workers modernize their skills for today’s technologically advanced workforce. “This important partnership is a powerful example of how the private sector can join forces with the City University of New York to advance workers’ education, promote economic mobility and help rebuild New York City’s post-pandemic economy all at the same time,” said CUNY Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez in response to the new partnership.
Amazon has even taken the extra step to build classrooms on site where employees can attend classes after or in-between shifts if needed. For those looking to obtain foundational skills before furthering their education, Amazon’s Career Choice also offers English proficiency and GED preparation courses.
Since launching in 2012, Career Choice helped provide education for more than 50,000 employees across 14 countries worldwide. With tuition support, many minimum wage earners no longer have to place their dreams of pursuing a degree on hold.
CUNY’s partnership with Amazon is part of the school’s Career Success Initiative to offer “engaging skill-building programs that prepare CUNY students for real life internship and job opportunities.” According to Barbara Bowen, a current professor at QC and the former president of the Professional Staff Congress (PSC CUNY), a trade union that represents faculty of the CUNY campuses, “while some CUNY students are from middle-income families, the majority live in or close to poverty.” She highlighted the eye-opening fact that most students must help contribute to their household income while attending classes. As it becomes increasingly difficult for hourly workers to make a living in NYC, CUNY hopes to provide students with ample opportunities for economic mobility. The school’s high percentage of minority students means that “for most, CUNY is the only realistic chance of building a good life within a political system that sets them up to fail,” as Bowen added.
For all the good this deal figures to bring, Amazon’s checkered history with Queens is still worth remembering. Lara Beaty, an associate professor of psychology at LaGuardia Community College, voiced some prescient concerns to PSC CUNY back in 2018 when Amazon announced their new headquarters coming to Long Island City. “My personal concern is that we’ll suddenly be preparing students to go work at Amazon. We will become more about worker training rather than transitioning students to a four year college,” she said. Her apprehension towards Amazon infiltrating our communities seemingly applies to their new partnership with CUNY as well. A tuition initiative is certainly the type of opportunity that vulnerably young, recent high school graduates will be enticed by. Unfortunately, “the job that looks good when you’re 20 looks very different when you’re 40 or 60,” adds Beaty. Leading students down a career path that may distract them from seeing the bigger picture is definitely a risk when joining Career Choice.
This partnership is now a reality and a CUNY mainstay highlighting how big corporations often get involved in our communities for better or worse. Whatever the case may be, one thing remains true, and Governor Kathy Hochul says it best: “Education can unlock opportunity and prosperity for New Yorkers, no matter what background or zip code. We must continue to invest in community colleges, workforce development, and opportunities for career training.”