We believe that the City University of New York should be free again. Here are five reasons why:
1. It used to be free—when CUNY was white. Free access to CUNY allowed generations of southern and eastern European immigrants to achieve a better life. The city imposed tuition in 1976— the first year that the incoming class was a majority students of color. Today, 85% of New York City K-12 students are people of color. Students of color deserve the same opportunities that the city gave to previous, whiter generations of students.
2. It’s the only way to give everyone a fair start. These days, a college degree is the new high school diploma—the bare minimum level of education needed to get a decent job. Education should be a human right, not a luxury just for those who can afford it.
3. A free CUNY is possible. The city projected a budget surplus of $2.7 billion million in 2020 in a budget of $94.4 billion.1 For 2016, the state had a surplus of $572 million in a budget of $175.5 billion. A free CUNY would only cost $812 million.2 A small tax on the top 1% of earners (those making over $600,000) in New York City, combined with increased city and state finding, could easily fund a free CUNY. Let’s put our tax dollars to work to create equal opportunity for all.
4. A free CUNY will let students succeed. Tuition and living expenses are the biggest barriers to academic success for working class students, in particular students of color. The high cost of living in New York and lack of financial aid for most part-time students lead to a dropout rate of nearly 50% in the senior colleges and a non-completion rate of over 70% in Associate degree programs. Making CUNY free again will allow students to focus on their studies, not on hustling to survive, allowing thousands more students to graduate on time and pursue their dreams. Taking away financial pressure will allow students to learn for the joy of learning and helping their communities, rather than simply as a cash investment to get a better job.
5. Dozens of countries have free higher education, why not NYC? Higher education is free in Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, Uruguay, Ireland, Scotland, Finland, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Iceland, Morocco, Spain, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Slovenia, Hungary, Greece, Russia, Poland, and others3. New York City is the richest city in the richest country in the world. If so many other countries with less money provide a free higher education to their citizens, so can we.
Questions and Answers
Sounds great, I think CUNY should be free, but how are you going to do it?
We know that making CUNY free won’t be easy, but as a movement of students and educators committed to this goal we won’t rest until we win. Our plan to make CUNY free entails first a proposed amendment to the city’s charter that will require the city to fund the CUNY system adequately through a tax on the richest 1% in New York City. If 60,000 people sign the Make CUNY Free Again petition, New Yorkers will vote by referendum to incorporate our amendment into the city charter.
Isn’t making CUNY free again too expensive?
New York City has a 2016 budget of $82 billion. New York State has a budget of $156 billion. Last year New York City and New York State had a combined budget surplus of $1.9 billion. It would cost $812 million to replace tuition at CUNY. The money is there if we as taxpayers choose to spend it that way.
Fair enough, but how likely is it that New York would get another budget surplus like that again this year?
Our charter amendment proposes an income tax on the highest 1% of earners, which would help the city pay for a free CUNY year after year. New York City hosts the most billionaires of any city in the whole world,4 so we believe an additional tax on this bracket of earners could be used to give all New Yorkers a fair chance at a quality education.
Free tuition is great, but we all know the cost of living in New York is out of control. How does Free CUNY address that?
The charter amendment we are proposing will both make CUNY tuition free as well as provide students will the resources they need to make getting an education easier. We are calling on the city to provide public transportation passes to all students; a stipend for books and other school supplies; as well as provide support for students that are living below the poverty line so that they can work less and pay attention in the classroom more.