The Battle For Affordable College Has Reached the USA's Most Expensive City

Despite torrential rain and stifling humidity, on Monday students from all over New York City congregated in midtown Manhattan, in front of the central administration office of the City University of New York to hold a press conference on the state of CUNY. This comes as CUNY brings on William Kelly as its new chancellor.The press conference was organized by a coalition of student and community groups that included New York Students Rising, The Free University, People Power Movement, and Student Bloc.

Rising tuition and a drop in diversity at senior colleges represent a larger shift that speaks to the restructuring of education happening across the country. Students are paying more for an education that is being watered down to allow for a mass production of degrees that are worth less in this economy.

The struggle for CUNY is significant, because it is currently one of the most affordable public colleges, but unless New York as a whole begins to struggle for it, it won't remain that way. This is why education needs to move from a student-centered issue to a more social issue. We need to understand how the struggle for education effects everyone and talk about how to make education more affordable for all.

Alyssia Osorio, a student organizer with Students for Educational Rights at City College of New York and New York Students Rising, spoke of how the fall in diversity at CUNY represents a failure of the university to hold up to its mission: "CUNY is becoming a gentrifying agent in New York City, rather than adhering to it's mission of serving the working class and uplifting the social conditions of many poor New Yorkers by providing them with access to education. We put together this press conference because we're concerned about CUNY administration's agenda to corporatize, privatize, and militarize public education."

Students also spoke out against rising tuition, the hiring of former CIA Director David Petraeus to teach a course at CUNY (who is reportedly getting paid over $150,000 to do it, much higher than the average adjunct pay of only $3,000 per course), and the Pathways Initiative, which takes away faculty control over the curriculum and puts it in the hands of administrators — a move that many faculty have vehemently opposed.

As outlined in an April 26, 2013 New York Times CUNY students’ letter to the editor, the new chancellor will assume responsibility for outgoing Chancellor Matthew Goldstein’s “abysmal legacy.” Since Chancellor Goldstein took office in 1999, university diversity has dramatically shrunk, more classes are taught by underpaid adjuncts, tuition has doubled, the suppression of peaceful dissent has become policy, and top administrators’ salaries have skyrocketed.

This also comes at the same time as the rates on student loans have doubled despite widespread efforts to stop it by lawmakers, advocacy groups, and students. Emma Francis-Snyder, a student at Brooklyn College, notes how tuition hikes at CUNY mean students will be coming out with higher debt upon graduation: “The rise in tuition means that more and more students are going to have to take on loans, which will now take even longer for them to pay back. Meanwhile banks pay only .75% interest on their loans. It's simply unfair and we need to start supporting accessible education, not corporate banks. Students are being told to pay more while simultaneously getting less, and it’s time we got a better deal out of our education.”

It's not only students in New York speaking out in support of affordable education, but nationwide. Just recently students, after taking over the Sallie Mae shareholders meeting, met with the new CEO to discuss making higher education affordable.

Even more recently, House Bill 3472, or Pay It Forward, passed the Oregon Senate unanimously, after having passed unanimously in the House last week. This means that Oregon is one step closer to having students pay nothing to attend college, instead paying a small percentage of their income after they graduate into a fund for education. 

Whether or not this is something that other states replicate depends on whether or not everyone — not just students — begin to speak out in support of affordable education. We need to switch the conversation from how much debt we're taking on, to why it costs so much to go in the first place.