Denise Romero considers her experience in the City University of New York system a “bumpy ride.” She first attended York College in 2010, transferred to Baruch College and was later dismissed, entered Kingsborough Community College, and eventually moved to her current home: LaGuardia Community College.
“It’s the most horrifying rollercoaster ride I can’t get off,” she said laughing.
Romero, from Mexico, is one of thousands of undocumented students attending CUNY, New York City’s flagship public institution of 24 senior and community colleges. These students pay tuition and related school expenses without being eligible for federal or state financial assistance, and, starting this fall, they are excluded from Governor Andrew Cuomo’s “tuition-free” plan.
The Excelsior Scholarship affects colleges at both the City University of New York and State University of New York. It is the first in the nation to provide free education at four-year public colleges. Students from families that earn up to $100,000 per year would qualify under the program, eventually expanding to $125,000 by 2019.
“There is no child who will go to sleep tonight and say, ‘I have great dreams, but I don’t believe I’ll be able to get a college education because my parents can’t afford it,’” Cuomo said after it was passed by lawmakers in Albany.
However, the dreams may still turn to nightmares for many students. For one, students must take 30 credits, or about 10 classes, over the course of an academic year. Nearly two in five CUNY students come from families earning less than $20,000 a year (tuition is over $6,000 per year) and the vast majority are forced to work and take classes part-night or at night, making it virtually impossible to cross the 30 credit threshold.