The Impact of CUNY Budget Cuts on Student Life at Macaulay

Student life at CUNY is facing a new threat: outside funding is on a steady decline. 

Since its establishment in 1961, the City University of New York (CUNY) has been known for its accessible, high-quality education. In fact, up until a financial crisis in 1976, CUNY had granted free tuition to its students. In 2023, however, the days of free CUNY are simply memories of the past. Funding to CUNY has decreased drastically over the years; in New York City’s comptroller report for the 2023 fiscal year it was stated that “successive reductions to CUNY’s funding from the City of New York totaled $155 million, resulting in the loss of 235 faculty and staff positions.” The Executive Budget for the 2024 fiscal year anticipates annual cuts of $41.3 million from 2024-2026. 

This decrease in funding will continue to lead to cuts in faculty and staff positions and programs that help low-income students such as the CUNY Reconnect and CUNY Accelerated Study in Associate Programs (ASAP), including CUNY’s Accelerate,Complete, and Engage (ACE) program. Freshman Kimberly Caceres is part of the ACE Program at John Jay College and depends heavily on the MetroCard and textbook funds. “I commute from Long Island,” she explained, “and it really helps me a lot because I already have to pay almost $300 for my LIRR monthly ticket.” The program also sent out an email to students stating that “Due to a limited budget, there will be no winter textbook funds or winter MetroCards for any ACE student enrolled in a winter course.” 

For Juan Pantaleon, another freshman in the ACE cohort at John Jay College, this is “unfair” and “undermine[s] [his] work put in.” “As a student who put in a lot of work in high school to get ahead in terms of college credits,” he elaborated, “it’s unfair that ACE only covers students who are behind in credits. Either cover everyone or nobody.” Due to the decreased funding, it seems the program is being forced to limit access to its previously inclusive benefits just to stay running. The budget cuts are also compounded with decreases in tuition revenue as enrollment across CUNY continues to drop annually, detailed in the New York City’s comptroller report for the 2023 fiscal year.  This combination of factors has led to CUNY institutions increasing student fees, creating yet another barrier for low-income students in their pursuit of higher education. 

A lack of money not only leads to a lack of opportunities but also leads to a decrease in the overall quality of student life. Macaulay Honors College, Dean Byrne explained, does not collect student activity fees, instead using funding from donors as well as city education funds. However, with a decrease in financial support, Macaulay has had to limit some of the benefits that initially made it stand out to high school seniors in the first place. The college continues to offer free tuition for its students, but no longer distributes free laptops or MetroCards. 

Padma Haran, a freshman in the Macaulay program at Queens College, has noticed differences in her time at Macaulay versus her older sister’s, who also graduated from Macaulay at Queens College. “She got a computer, and I didn’t. She also had more money in her opportunities fund.”

This decision was not an easy one. “It’s a balancing act in a state that is short billions of dollars,” Dean Byrne explained. “During the pandemic, a lot of schools used the HERF money to buy technology in their buildings. Macaulay didn’t qualify for those funds. Because we didn’t qualify, we were not able to purchase laptops like everybody else.” Ultimately, as Dean Byrne explained, “It was either people or things.”

The Macaulay building provides students with professional development opportunities, student lounge space, and wellness resources.

But cuts to the budget also affect campus life and the student body. Celine Glennon, a sophomore in the Macaulay program at Hunter College as well as the Macaulay Student Life Intern for Fall 2023, noted the importance of funding for student life opportunities: “These organizations work to serve and fulfill the student body in unique ways (with no means of replacing/substituting this engagement if these organizations fold). Their survival and well-being must be considered in CUNY-wide budget discussions, to continue to protect students’ welfare.” 

CUNY is tasked with supporting a diverse community of students, many of whom come from underrepresented ethnic and social backgrounds. According to a 2021 analysis by the Comptroller’s Office, these very students earn $57 billion and pay $4.2 billion in taxes to New York State. CUNY graduates contribute to the city’s economy in a variety of careers, many of which are core jobs that keep the city running. For instance, CUNY graduates make up half of the new nurses who enter the New York City workforce each year and one-third of the teachers in the Department of Education. According to these statistics, CUNY students make up a substantial portion of the city’s workforce. However, as funding for CUNY schools and programs continues to decrease, whether CUNY graduates will be able to continue to support the city at the same extent remains to be seen.

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