CUNY Students Demand Full Funding For CUNY And Free MetroCards

March 18, 2024

With lawmakers entering the final weeks of state budget negotiations and the City Council days away from a hearing on City University of New York funding.

The dozens of CUNY students, faculty, and staff rallied and marched across the Brooklyn Bridge Friday to demand full funding of their university.

Led by the University Student Senate of CUNY and supported by the CUNY Rising Alliance, a coalition of student, labor and community groups, the “March in March,” was a powerful demonstration of support for a platform of investments in CUNY including, increases in city and state funding for CUNY’s 25 colleges, more robust student support services, full funding of CUNY’s collective bargaining costs, and free MetroCards for CUNY students.

“We can’t forget about CUNY. We can’t forget about the students and the impact [CUNY] is going to have,” said Assemblymember Harvey Epstein as he spoke at City Hall before the march over the bridge.

“This year, the March in March is driven by the understanding that transportation costs pose a considerable financial burden on our students. In an effort to address this challenge, USS CUNY is leading the charge to secure free MetroCards for all CUNY students, ensuring that financial constraints do not hinder academic access and success. Students in public high schools get free transportation and then are left on their own if they decide to pursue higher education,” said Salimatou Doumbouya, Chairperson of the CUNY University Student Senate who represents the 223,000 CUNY Students “This is counterintuitive. The city and the state should be encouraging students to be more educated by continuing to do what works.”

CUNY colleges are in a financial crisis despite recent state budget increases because of decades of underfunding from Albany and increasing tuition dependence, city budget cuts and pandemic enrollment declines.  Colleges across the system were forced by the central administration to enact $128 million in cuts, leading to hiring freezes, reductions in course offerings, increased class sizes and diminished student support. Nine colleges were directed to make additional, disruptive mid-year cuts.  

But enrollment has rebounded since October of last year, state and city lawmakers are speaking up for increased CUNY funding, and students and their allies are building a movement toward making education more accessible and inclusive, and organizing to demand the education that they deserve.

“CCSD is proud to work with the USS and our other ‘March in March” coalition sponsors in advocating for necessary State and City support for CUNY’s more than 10,000 self-identified students with disabilities. We fully support CUNY’s $7 million request ($4.7 million from the State, $2.3 million from the City) for essential services for students with disabilities. The City of New York has never provided adequate support for services for students with disabilities in the City budget, and that needs to change!” said Leonard Blade, Chair of the CUNY Coalition for students with disabilities. 

“CUNY students, faculty and staff, and graduates keep New York City running.”

“CUNY students, faculty and staff, and graduates keep New York City running. That’s why we have such a powerful coalition joining together to advocate for the highest quality education possible to support working-class New Yorkers trying to improve their lives. We need a New Deal for CUNY and a fully funded union contract because students and faculty both deserve deeper commitments and more public funding. Albany has the money to make these investments in CUNY and our people. City Hall does, too!” said James Davis, president of the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing 30,000 faculty and professional staff at CUNY.

“CUNY is not a debatable subject. A fully funded CUNY and SUNY means a powerful and knowledgeable New York. Knowledge is power, and power is a tool required for our students and future workers of New York City to continue to build and run the city,” said Meeks Samuel, Co-chair of Young Democratic Socialist of America.

Sean Henry Miller, Northeast Regional Director of Young Invincibles, the nation’s largest young adult policy and advocacy organization, said “Public college education has the power to transform lives and communities, but requires adequate investment. Budget strains at CUNY and SUNY are defining the education experience, particularly at CUNY, where thousands of our students lack access to vital mental health services, face buildings in disrepair, housing insecurity, and endure faculty layoffs. This is no way to treat our educators or our next generation of teachers, nurses, doctors, counselors, business leaders, engineers, scientists, artists, and community leaders. Albert Einstein School of Medicine went tuition-free last month, thanks to a $1 billion private donation. Our state budget of over $230 billion must make the same investments for our students, fully fund our schools, and make public higher education tuition-free.”

More About Free MetroCards

Students in CUNY’s most successful college completion programs, ACE and ASAP, receive free, unlimited MetroCards. Relieving students of the daily cost of commuting is one of the many keys to these programs’ success. 

Giving free MetroCards to all CUNY community college students would cost $37 million..

846 CUNY students participated in a recent survey about transportation needs conducted by the University Student Senate. Many of the respondents shared details of how commuting costs undermine their ability to afford college: 

  • “Before I had to sacrifice my book money or meal money to afford to get here to school on time which ultimately would cause a chain of other issues,” said OS, a student at Hostos Community College. 
  • “Sometimes I don’t have money to pay for transportation because maybe in the week I spent all my money paying bills,” said YP, a student at Bronx Community College.
  • “I really think it is a very high expense for us students because we have more responsibilities and are more overloaded,” said IA, a student at Queensborough Community College.

“These stories were heartbreaking to read,” said Doumbouya “Having to choose between a meal, textbooks or bills. By giving community colleges $37 million the cost of monthly Metrocards could be offset and automatically make it easier for CUNY community college students to have a better experience.”

Photo credit: Erik McGregor.

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