Op-Ed | Thankful for CUNY

CUNY CARES hires students like Liliana Cornejo (right) to help connect their peers to food, housing and health care assistance.

The holiday season is a time to express gratitude for the good things in life, and for generations of New Yorkers one of those things has been the access they have to public higher education. With its affordable tuition and support services for students, CUNY helps New Yorkers of every background achieve their educational goals and personal dreams, elevating the city in the process.

CUNY awards some 50,000 degrees each year — and that is more than just an abstract number because 80% of our graduates stay in New York City and become key contributors to its workforce, economy and quality of life. Perhaps no one better understands CUNY’s potent role driving those graduates up the economic ladder than our philanthropic partners. These foundations, organizations and individuals enhance our ability to provide a top-quality system of public higher education that is accessible to students of all circumstances and means.

In recent years, CUNY and its 25 campuses have raised an annual average of more than $180 million from donors ranging from philanthropic organizations to individuals. With their support, CUNY is doubling down on the priorities set by “CUNY Lifting New York,” our new strategic roadmap for transforming CUNY into the nation’s foremost student-centered university system by the end of this decade.

The strategic plan sets a goal of increasing our overall level of fundraising by 30%. You can be part of that ongoing drive by contributing to CUNY Tuesday, part of the global fundraising day known as Giving Tuesday. Visit cunytuesday.org to donate now and throughout the holiday season.

At the heart of our appeal to donors is the opportunity to invest not just in an institution, but in the students who make CUNY’s mission so vital: Most are graduates of the city’s public high schools, and nearly half are the first generation in their family to attend college. Half come from families with household incomes under $30,000 and nearly half are working while in school. More than 10% of our undergraduates are caring for dependent children.

The Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation, the Andrew W. Mellon FoundationRobin Hood, and many others support many of CUNY’s most transformative programs to advance our students’ academic success, keep them on track for graduation and create pathways to fulfilling careers.

Many of our students have needs that go beyond the classroom. Nearly four in 10 tell us they are worried about having stable housing or enough to eat, among other stresses that pose barriers to academic success. And so we are grateful for generous support such as a $2.25 million grant from Trinity Church Wall Street to provide housing for students; and the millions for scholarships that the Jewish Foundation for the Education of Women provides to CUNY women of all backgrounds who have financial need.

This is the kind of philanthropy that goes to the heart of CUNY’s fundamental mission  of equity and access. This was never more clear than it was three years ago, when so many of our philanthropic supporters stood up to help CUNY students persevere during the darkest and most trying moments of the pandemic.

The Petrie Foundation was one of those donors, and it remains one of CUNY’s most committed benefactors. Just last month, the foundation made grants totaling $2.4 million for a broad array of programs promoting academic success, career preparation and internships, food access and migrant education. That’s in addition to the $2 million a year that Petrie contributes to fund student emergency grants and campus food pantries.

Philanthropic support is also crucial to our efforts to advance career success for our students and graduates, particularly in areas like health care and the STEM fields, which offer opportunity to growing numbers of students while strengthening the city’s economy and well-being. We are grateful for the support of donors such as the Gray Foundation and hope to attract additional support for hundreds of health- and science-related programs.

In the last few years, we’ve also seen an increase in support from employer partners ​such as Centerbridge Partners, Bloomberg LP, Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan Chase, BNY Mellon, Google, CD&R, Blackstone and Amazon​. They have all gone beyond hiring to make important investments ​in CUNY career success initiatives that prepare our students for jobs in key sectors like finance, entrepreneurship and tech.

As we celebrate the holiday season, we express deep gratitude to all our donors, whose support throughout the year is so important to the future of CUNY’s students — and to that of New York.

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.