As Student Debt Nationwide Has Surpassed $1 Trillion, Nearly 80% at CUNY Graduate Debt Free

Nearly 80 percent of full-time college students are debt free when they graduate from The City University of New York, making CUNY a national leader in providing the golden combination in higher education value today: valued degrees, high-quality education, award-winning professors, affordable tuition, and the likelihood of debt-free graduation.

Even as student debt nationwide has surpassed $1 trillion and U.S. college graduates owe about $27,000 on average, eight of ten students graduate from CUNY colleges without federal student loans, according to “The CUNY Value Plus,” a new report available at Almost half of those who carry loans after graduation are transfer students who chose the CUNY value after attending a more costly private or public institution.

The University’s exceptionally affordable tuition, lower than most private and public institutions in the nation, is what makes it possible for the majority of CUNY undergraduates – including low-income and employed, veterans and CUNY scholarship recipients — to cover college costs without having to borrow. Nearly sixty percent of full time undergraduates attend tuition free, thanks in part to federal Pell grants, New York State Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) awards, and CUNY’s own financial aid programs.

For Army veteran Kasha Taylor, a state employee and mother of two, it was the low-cost tuition at CUNY’s Lehman College, plus work and careful budgeting, that made it possible for her to cover 70 percent of her tuition costs with her veterans’ benefits, and pay the rest before collecting her diploma.

“It’s a beautiful thing,” said Taylor, who graduated with a degree in business administration and plans to go to graduate school. “A lot of people feel the higher the tuition, the higher the education. I disagree. My professors were awesome.”

For Christina Terracino, the mix of “a little bit” of state Tuition Assistance Program (TAP) aid and her CUNY scholarships allowed her to graduate from The College of Staten Island owing nothing.

“It’s a great thing, it’s such a simple application, and it paid for my education,” Terracino said of her scholarships. Now looking ahead to graduate school, she said, ‘I would love to be an academic librarian, work on the Ph.D., become a professor. I know I can do that without worrying because I don’t have to worry about any undergrad debt.”

Michael Suarez, who attended LaGuardia Community College and recently graduated from Hunter College, qualified for Pell grants and TAP awards that made his tuition free. He graduated owing just $1,500 left over from a loan to pay for a semester living at a student residence at Queens College.

“Graduating with very little debt with hopes of going to medical school is a big deal for me,” said Suarez, who graduated in psychology from Hunter College. “It puts me way ahead of the game.”

“CUNY’s unwavering commitment to excellence and opportunity – offering the best academics at an affordable price, making it possible to graduate debt free — is expanding opportunity for the many thousands of students who enroll in our colleges every year,” said Interim Chancellor William P. Kelly. “That’s ‘CUNY Value Plus,’ and as we emerge from tough economic times into a changing job market, it’s more critical than ever.

“We offer the best higher education value to New Yorkers, and are always innovating to best prepare our students for rewarding careers and further study.”

CUNY’s tuition is stabilized by a unique public-private funding mechanism called The CUNY Compact, which envisions modest, predictable tuition increases that enable students and families to plan ahead.  In 2013, CUNY tuition and fees remain significantly lower than those of most higher education institutions, private and public, in the New York metropolitan area and nationwide.

Aside from affordable tuition, more than $1 billion in financial aid including government grants, CUNY aid and scholarships, is benefiting CUNY students this academic year.  The American Opportunity Tax Credit, a rebate of up to $2,500 that eases education expenses for many middle-class families, may further reduce the cost of CUNY tuition.

Distinguished professors and CUNY’s increasing attractiveness to motivated, high-achieving students are also key factors in the CUNY Value Plus equation. CUNY students, mentored by award-winning professors and encouraged by the University have consistently been winning prestigious national honors including National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowships, Barry M. Goldwater and Harry S. Truman Scholarships and Fulbright grants.

In 2013, 23 CUNY students, a more than any public university in the Northeast, won NSF Graduate Research Fellowships for science, engineering and other graduate research. CUNY students also benefit from institutional scholarships funded more than $2.5 billion in private donations raised since 2000 by the Invest in CUNY campaign.

The University has also responded to record enrollments, reported at approximately 270,000 degree-credit students this fall, by increasing the ranks of full-time professors and investing $3.8 billion in CUNY construction projects that have modernized facilities and transformed the CUNY experience in all five boroughs. Some $3 billion in new construction, expansion, renovation and maintenance projects are in the pipeline.

CUNY Value Plus contains new data from The College Board, the National Center for Education Statistics, and the University’s Office of Institutional Research. The CUNY Value Plus website, featuring the new publication, videos and other information, is available at

The new data underscores CUNY’s value in the higher-education marketplace.  CUNY’s tuition and fees, averaging  $5,818 at its four-year colleges in fall 2012, contrasts sharply with the $29,056 national average for private, non-profit four-year colleges and universities, the $15,172 average at for-profit institutions, and the $8,655 average tuition and fees at public, four-year institutions, according to The College Board.

About The City University of New York:
The City University of New York is the nation’s leading urban public university. Founded in New York City in 1847, the University comprises 24 institutions: 11 senior colleges, seven community colleges, the William E. Macaulay Honors College at CUNY, the CUNY Graduate School and University Center, the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, the CUNY School of Law, the CUNY School of Professional Studies and the CUNY School of Public Health.   The University serves more than 270,000 degree-credit students and 218,083 adult, continuing and professional education students. College Now, the University’s academic enrichment program, is offered at CUNY campuses and more than 300 high schools throughout the five boroughs of New York City. The University offers online baccalaureate degrees through the School of Professional Studies and an individualized baccalaureate through the CUNY Baccalaureate Degree. Nearly 3 million unique visitors and 10 million page views are served each month via, the University’s website.


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