CUNY Comeback Program cancels student debt for at least 50,000 students



Angelica Tejada, Opinions Editor

The CUNY Comeback Program has canceled outstanding tuition and fees for around 50,000 students using up to $125 million from the federal Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund.

Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and CUNY Chancellor Félix Matos Rodríguez launched the program in July to help those financially disadvantaged, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

“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. “This landmark new program eliminates millions of dollars in unpaid debt, providing much-needed relief to tens of thousands of CUNY students as they work to get back on their feet after the pandemic and plan for their futures.”

The CUNY Board of Trustees approved the use of $125 million in federal stimulus funds on July 6 to support students whose debt threatens their educational success.

“It has been a historic year for the City University of New York and for CUNY students,” Juvanie Piquant, the student representative on CUNY’s Board of Trustees and chairwoman of the University Student Senate, said. “We are relieving up to $125 million of student debt, and this is something that’s going to help us get back to school, back to work and help the economy.”

“‘CUNYStrong’ is all about believing in the work we do and ensuring that every student who walks into any hall of CUNY has an opportunity; by doing this, we are giving our students a chance to go out there and dream big, and to fulfill their dreams,” she continued.

As of August 2020, more than 69.2% of undergraduate students attend tuition-free while three in four of those students graduated debt-free, according to CUNY.

Students who were enrolled in CUNY from March 13, 2020 through the spring 2021 semester and have unpaid debts will have them eliminated under the program. Those who graduated  in the semesters from spring 2020 to spring 2021 are covered as well.

The program is a one-time forgiveness initiative and is funded through the Higher Education Emergency Relief Fund of the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act in December 2020 and President Joe Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, which was passed by the Congress in March.

“The central goal of the CUNY Comeback Program is to provide our students with the financial support they need to continue moving forward with their academic goals,” Matos Rodríguez said. “It’s clear from the many messages of appreciation we have received from CUNY students that this landmark measure has had a transformative effect on their lives, renewing their optimism as they roll up their sleeves for the start of the new academic year.”

Students whose debt was paid under the program expressed their gratitude, including Sabrina Morel, who had an outstanding balance of around $3,600 to the Borough of Manhattan Community College.

“I’m doing this alone and trying so hard not to give up,” Morel wrote to Matos Rodríguez. “Reading this email is like a miracle. That zero balance on my CUNYfirst account flooded me with tears. I feel a weight off my shoulders. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for giving me this chance to keep trying for my dream. I’m speechless. It feels like someone heard my prayers.”

Matos Rodríguez announced on Aug. 11 that CUNY will no longer hold transcripts of students or graduates who owe tuition and fees. This new policy change adds to the university’s goal to support its students throughout their future endeavors.

Students can find more information about the program on their campus’ CUNY Comeback Contact page.