‘Winning a New Deal for CUNY would benefit literally hundreds of  thousands of New Yorkers—an affordable high quality education right here in NYC can lift up families while creating a long term, sustained boon for our local economy.’

The College of Staten Island


The College of Staten Island, one of 25 CUNY campuses serving 275,000 students.

I would not be standing where I am today without our city’s public university system. As the representative of thousands of CUNY students, parents, and faculty in Southern Brooklyn, I believe that everyone should receive the same opportunity I did—the chance to get a high quality, affordable education in the best city in the world. 

The COVID-19 pandemic created an economic crisis of immense proportions and as we work towards a just recovery, it’s clear that a high quality public education is an investment in our students and our city’s recovery as a whole. That’s why I’m standing with the CUNY Rising Alliance to see that 2022 is the year we deliver for hard working college students by passing a New Deal for CUNY. 

The New Deal for CUNY (S4461/A5843) is a bill that Assemblymember Karines Reyes and I sponsor along with 55 of our colleagues that would not only make CUNY free again, but make sure that also means students have access to a first-class education. The funding will restore dilapidated buildings and mandate ratios of full-time faculty, mental health counselors and academic advisors to students. 

We know that higher education can propel people into the middle class. A person with a bachelor’s degree earns, on average, 65 percent more per week than a person with no college degree. The unemployment rate is nearly double for a person with no college versus a person with a bachelor’s degree. 

CUNY’s role in this is significant. CUNY colleges are consistently ranked among the most successful in lifting students into the middle class nationwide, and almost 80 percent of CUNY students stay and work full time in our state after graduating. That means that the 1.4 million alumni who graduated over the past 50 years are earning collectively tens of billions of dollars and are investing it right back into our local economy. We know that if we invest in our students that we’ll get a real return on this investment—and we know how to do it. 

While a true public education is the pathway to the American dream and middle class, decades of chronic underfunding has put CUNY’s original mission, to be a college for the “children of the whole people” and not only a “privileged few,” at risk. Where CUNY was once free for all, now a patchwork approach to programs like the Excelsior scholarship creates anxiety and uncertainty for students. And where CUNY was once appropriately funded to provide core services, today CUNY students are increasingly unlikely to encounter full-time faculty to receive the mentorship or support they need while on their educational path. The average building at CUNY is more than 50 years old, and decades of deferred maintenance have led to unsafe working conditions and crumbling infrastructure. Library, computer lab and writing center hours and staff have been reduced and class sizes have increased CUNY-wide. The list of preventable problems goes on and on. 

After years of Albany divesting our education system, we finally have an opportunity to make life better for New Yorkers. Last year, in the midst of the on-going pandemic, we finally made good on the state’s obligation to fully fund New York City’s public schools. This year we must turn our attention to CUNY. Investing in CUNY is the fiscally prudent thing to do and when I say that this is the moment to invest in CUNY, that is exactly what I mean. As we recover from the economic perils caused by the COVID19 pandemic, expanding economic opportunities is exactly what we should be thinking about.

With the New Deal for CUNY we can start to turn this ship around. At a time when our city and state is focused on economic recovery, an affordable and world class university education is more important than ever. Winning a New Deal for CUNY would benefit literally hundreds of  thousands of New Yorkers—an affordable high quality education right here in NYC can lift up families while creating a long term, sustained boon for our local economy.

State Senator Andrew Gounardes represents New York’s 22nd State Senate District.