LaGuardia Community College students in a science lab
examine a model of the human heart, c. 2006.
Public education has been a central mission for cities since the Boston Latin School opened in 1635. In 1847, New York City extended this philosophy to higher education, creating the Free Academy, later renamed The City College of New York. Townsend
, the driving force behind the creation of the Free Academy, declared, “Make [the new college] the property of the people – open the doors to all – let the children of the rich and the poor take their seats together, and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct and intellect.” For more than 160 years, The City University of New York has made Harris’ goal a reality.


City College students studying in a library, c. 1900.
From this foundation, New York City expanded its institutions of public higher education, opening Normal (later renamed Hunter) College, the first publicly funded tuition-free school for women, in 1870; Brooklyn College in 1930; and Queens College in 1937. After World War II, with the introduction of the G.I. Bill, CUNY continued to grow to meet the burgeoning demand for higher education. By the late 1960s, as enrollment continued to grow, CUNY expanded opportunities and created new community colleges, senior colleges, and a graduate school.


Student studying at City College, April 1972.

Today, the University – with its focus on academic standards, innovative programs and creative financial stewardship involving both the public and private sectors – is winning acclaim for quality academic programs that provide members of all economic and ethnic groups with opportunities for success. CUNY’s student body is one of the world’s most diverse. In 1999, CUNY raised its admission standards and remanded remedial course work to the associate degree level. Today, CUNY enrolls more degree-credit students, including more black, Hispanic, and Asian students than it has in any of the last thirty years.


William Hallet Greene, the first African-American
graduate of City College, 1884.
From its modest beginnings in 1849, when 149 students attended its first classes, to an enrollment of more than 242,000 today at 23 dynamic campuses, The City University of New York remains unwaveringly committed to opportunity, accessibility, diversity, and excellence in public higher education.