CUNY’s Chancellor’s Emergency Relief raises $17 million for students with pandemic-driven financial hardships



Farah Javed, Managing Editor

Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez launched the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund in April to help financially struggling CUNY students during the pandemic. Through online donations, about $17 million have been raised and given to these students.

The coronavirus pandemic has led to an economic downturn. As schools and workplaces closed, food and housing insecurity increased across New York. CUNY students were left without a means of money to support their families or to pay bills like rent. Some didn’t have homes that they could quarantine in. Others were forced to abruptly leave the U.S. and return to their home countries with uncertainty enshrouding their future and education.

The Chancellor’s Emergency Relief was meant to lessen financial hardships through $500 grants, which 6,000 CUNY students have received since the program’s inception. The fund’s intended goal is 20,000 students, but as donations pour in, this number could be surpassed.

After giving grants to students graduating in the summer, CUNY shifted its attention to undocumented students. In fact, 57% of the fund’s recipients came from this group. The grants will also be allocated towards international students, those from the foster care system and students who are parents. Though other financial need indicators are being used, these are a few of the top priority groups for grants.

“The pandemic has had a devastating economic impact on our students. We applaud the tireless efforts of our campus communities to help their students, and we are extremely grateful to the many philanthropic and individual donors who stepped up and collectively donated millions to help thousands of our students in this especially difficult time. We will continue these efforts until the crisis has passed,” said Chancellor Rodríguez.

The majority of the donors have some connection to CUNY, whether as an alumnus themselves or having family who attend a CUNY college. Still, outside organizations have contributed as well.

The Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, a Brooklyn-based nonprofit seeking to help low-income students get to college, donated $1 million. The James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation matched that donation. An additional $750,000 came from JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank and Goldman Sachs.

Stan Sesser, a retired Wall Street Journal reporter, also donated to the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund.

“CUNY offers a superb education and opportunity to everyone — it welcomes people of color, undocumented immigrants and anyone else who might encounter discrimination or face financial difficulties,” Sesser said. “But the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 puts this in peril. That’s why I was happy to contribute to the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund for CUNY students. And when I got the Chancellor’s email of thanks, I found it so moving and persuasive that I sent a second contribution of triple the original amount, I’m proud to have helped.”

In addition to the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund, CUNY has also distributed federal CARES money to students. Some CUNY colleges also started their own funds to help students during the pandemic. For instance, Hunter College’s relief fund raised $1.3 million and was distributed to more than 2,000 students, and Lehman College raised $1.1 million, given to 1,200 students, according to Campus News.

With the national economy’s gears rusted by the coronavirus pandemic, it is unclear when jobs, schools and regular life schedules will return. In the meantime, CUNY’s emergency funds continue to provide in-need students with support and financial means to stay afloat in these rocky times.