Op-Ed | Attention NYC Seniors! CUNY Has a Degree and a Place Waiting for You!


There’s been a lot of conversation lately about the value of college. Some are questioning the long-term benefit of a degree that increases a graduate’s income only to saddle them with decades of debt. Indeed, a recent New York Times Magazine article argued that the college affordability crisis has deeply undermined Americans’ faith in higher education as the most reliable path to upward mobility.

Today’s high school students are bombarded with information about private colleges whose annual tuition bills exceed average salaries. They hear less about the many excellent public colleges with affordable tuition that leaves graduates with little or no debt. As a result, too many low-income students give up on the possibility of going to college — a resignation that lowers their earning potential over time and perpetuates long-standing inequities.

That divide goes to the heart of why CUNY is partnering with the New York City Public Schools in a campaign to reach and recruit more city high school seniors. Throughout October — which we’re designating “CUNY Month” —  we will be sending out welcome letters, waiving the application fee and offering more than 100 in-person and virtual events to showcase the broad range of academic and career programs that make CUNY’s 25 campuses the nation’s leading engine of economic and social mobility.

In early October, guidance counselors throughout the city will be handing out personalized letters to some 65,000 high school seniors to introduce them to CUNY and the many options available at our 19 undergraduate campuses. There will be a QR code that links to an admissions page where students can start an application, research financial aid and scholarships and chat with a CUNY enrollment counselor. And the letter will offer Fall 2024 admission at one of CUNY’s seven two-year colleges for all students who earn their high school diploma or equivalency by the end of the school year.

The message to young New Yorkers from NYC Public Schools Chancellor David Banks and me: There’s a place for you at CUNY.

More than 80% of CUNY freshmen come from the city’s public schools, and this partnership between the country’s largest public school system and the largest urban university opens the doors of opportunity even wider. It will give high school seniors an early and encouraging introduction to CUNY, streamline their enrollment and smooth their transition to college. At the same time, it will increase the number of college-bound students, particularly first-generation students and those who might otherwise opt out of college because they think it is too expensive.

What they will learn is that the annual tuition for state residents is just $4,800 at CUNY’s seven community colleges and $6,930 at our 11 four-year colleges. That’s a fraction of the tuition at the typical private college and at many out-of-state public universities. And because of the availability of state and federal financial aid, most CUNY undergraduates pay no tuition at all and 76% graduate debt-free.

We’re also letting families know that CUNY students can get a range of academic, social and financial support to help students stay on track and graduate. Meanwhile, our burgeoning career-development initiatives are providing increasing numbers of our students with paid internships that not only help pay for the basics but give them invaluable experience and contacts for careers after they graduate.

The focus this October is on the many thousands of high school seniors who are contemplating their futures and making decisions about whether to go to college, and where. For them, CUNY’s answer is in the words that will soon appear in an advertising campaign on subways, buses, ferries and billboards around the city: “A Degree for Every Dream.”

We want them, and the whole city, to know that high-quality, affordable education is right around the corner.

Félix V. Matos Rodríguez is the chancellor of The City University of New York (CUNY), the largest urban public university system in the United States.