USS calls to freeze tuition during COVID-19 pandemic

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Nick Gulotta | Flickr

Angelica Tejada

The CUNY University Student Senate, which is the student government of the university as a whole, added freezing tuition for all CUNY students on its legislative agenda amidst the COVID-19 pandemic.

USS also rejected the renewal of NY SUNY 2020, labeled “a rational tuition plan” that allowed SUNY and CUNY to raise tuition by $300 per year for five years, and called on the state legislature to oppose any new tuition hikes.

“Back when Cuomo started the tuition hikes plan like a decade ago, it was done in the understanding of most students that the state would continue to pay their responsibilities for the upkeeping of the schools. And the extra money would go to boosting programming and maintenance,” USS Delegate from Baruch College Joel De La Cruz, who spoke to The Ticker on the phone, said.

The New York Public Interest Research Group published a report in 2019 that estimated CUNY and SUNY students have been charged $4 billion more as a result of the scheduled tuition hikes.

“Basically, the city decided that it was rational to increase tuition every year by $300and for that to be in place is showing that it is a system that had been predetermined to constantly charge students and put the financial burdens on the backs of students,” USS Vice Chair of Legislative Affairs Juvanie Piquant said to The Ticker over the phone.

In Jan., New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed allowing CUNY and SUNY to raise the tuition $200 in addition to the scheduled tuition hikes under NY SUNY 2020.

USS said it rejects Cuomo’s proposal and wants the legislature to find funding in their budget to freeze tuition and move towards a “free CUNY.”

“Essentially, if there was investment from the state, tuition could be frozen,” Piquant said. “A group of people, CUNY and administrators who sit on the board of trustees — they have the authority … to freeze tuition despite what the governor says. This is a very political thing. Usually the governor will call or give a signal and say, ‘Yes, freeze tuition. No, freeze tuition.’”

A tuition freeze would significantly decrease the amount of money students have to pay for their education, especially for out-of-state and international students who pay almost double the average price tuition annually.

During these unprecedented times due to the coronavirus pandemic, students are also facing more financial, mental and health-related hardships than ever before.

“There are many students that are the only ones working in their household right now due to COVID-19, due to many people being laid off. I think that imposing a tuition hike on students during this time is just setting the students’ futures up for failure and setting them up to halt them from their dreams … from moving forward in their academic career,” Piquant said. “I don’t think a financial burden should be the thing that stops students from pursuing education when in fact, there could be money invested in education from the city and the state.”

USS Chairperson and Student Trustee Timothy Hunter, who spoke to The Ticker over the phone, said that they have always opposed any tuition increases.

“We don’t stand for any tuition increases because we already have students that are dealing with so many personal problems like housing insecurity and food insecurity. We don’t think it’s right to ask them to pay another $200 to the university,” Hunter said. “I don’t think that it’s right for us to continue to put the checkbooks of the university on the backs of the students that literally can’t afford it.”

Piquant said that USS wants the Legislature to move towards a “free CUNY” that is also fully funded.

A fully funded CUNY, for Piquant, means that resources like mental health counselors, food assistance programs and workforce development programs are given to students to help them move forward in their education.

“I stand for CUNY to eventually go back to a free university but also a fully funded university where they are not giving us the scraps, they are giving us the pie and investment in all different corners,” Piquant said.

Students can take action and join USS in opposing tuition hikes in many different ways. One way is to utilize the hashtag #FundCUNYNow on the different social media platforms to engage in conversations against tuition hikes.

“The biggest thing they can do to take action is to call, call, call their elected officials, their state senators, their assembly members, city council members. Those are the most important people to call,” Hunter added.

Students can take action on campus by engaging with their student governments, joining a club or staying informed about what’s going on.