Op-Ed | Our City Needs CUNY, and CUNY Needs You!


I never tire of hearing — or telling — CUNY success stories. They are the stories of students from all backgrounds and so many places, with all kinds of experiences and aspirations. They’ve worked hard to get to college, and many will be the first in their family to earn a degree. They are passionate and perseverant. And they benefit from the many CUNY programs that support their success, prepare them for careers and propel them to achieve their ambitions and dreams.


The journey of Hunter College student Montserrat Lopez is very much a story of CUNY success. Monti, as she’s known, was 5 when she arrived in Queens from Mexico with her family. She grew up with dreams of college that she eventually realized would be hard to achieve as an undocumented immigrant. Most dauntingly, she didn’t qualify for the federal financial aid that most low-income students depend on to attend college. But now, Monti is a senior political science major with plans for law school and a passion for immigrant labor advocacy fueled by the indignities and abuses she’s seen her parents endure in their restaurant jobs.


Monti is on the way to realizing her dreams in good part because of the support and inspiration she’s gotten at CUNY. Much of that support has come from programs that are sustained by the generosity of private donors who believe in CUNY’s mission. Monti is a recipient of Hunter’s Eva Kastan Grove Scholarship, which provides tuition funding, mentorship and other support to immigrant students and others in need who are committed to public service and human rights. And she’s found a strong sense of community as a student scholar at Hunter’s renowned Roosevelt House Public Policy Institute. “Having that many people by my side means that I have a community behind me,” Monti says. “To me, it’s a sign that the college cares about its students, and it’s trying its best to provide all the opportunities that it can to its students.”


A Little Gift Goes a Long Way


November 30 is GivingTuesday, the annual global campaign to inspire people to do good and give well. Each year since 2016, we’ve designated it CUNYTuesday, a day when our community and our supporters — both longstanding donors and new ones — come together to invest in our mission to propel striving New Yorkers like Monti Lopez to the middle class and beyond.


Giving to The City University of New York helps sustain and grow the many innovative programs and initiatives that make CUNY the nation’s leading urban public university. It is vital support in increasingly challenging times for public higher education. This year, it’s an investment in New York’s recovery from the pandemic.


The returns on that investment are tangible — not only in the difference it makes in the lives of students but also in the way their success helps drive the city’s success. More than 80 percent of CUNY graduates stay in New York and contribute to all aspects of the city’s economic, civic and cultural life. They diversify every sector of the city’s workforce and make it more reflective of the city, an impact that goes to the heart of our mission.


And here’s another powerful effect: CUNY graduates from 1967 to 2019 earn $67 billion in a single year — more than double what they would have earned with only a high school diploma. That’s $33.7 billion of value added each year to the city’s economy. As the city’s economy starts to move forward from the pandemic, CUNY graduates become ever more important to the overall health of the city.

CUNY’s community of more than 300,000 students, faculty and staff have sacrificed, adapted and persevered through the pandemic, and now our 25 campuses are humming with life once more. We’re forgiving millions of dollars of our students’ debt and expanding our efforts to support their well-being beyond the classroom. We’re finding ways to help our faculty become the best teachers they can be and we’re promoting diversity, equity and inclusion with new approaches that help us break down more barriers for our students than ever before. Over the past decade, the number of degrees we’ve awarded has soared: from about 45,000 to this year’s record-breaking 59,000.

We are extremely grateful to the many donors, large and small, whose generosity has played a great role in all of these advances. Their investment is supplementing our city and state funding at a time of increasing financial stress for all public higher education. Each year since its inception five years ago, CUNYTuesday has generated a greater degree of critical support for our campuses and their students. In 2016, CUNYTuesday raised $300,000. Last year — at the height of the pandemic — it raised $2.7 million. We hope to set yet another record this year.

By making a CUNYTuesday donation today or on November 30, New Yorkers help us reimagine a better and more equitable post-pandemic CUNY, one in which students continue to achieve their dreams and lead the New York City of the future. To give, visit CUNYTuesday and choose the college and even the program you’d like to support.

Now more than ever, our city needs CUNY, and CUNY needs you.

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.