City Council Leaders Seek to Protect Vallone Funds

On a bright day during the spring recess, Alexis Dunning of Jamaica, Queens, spent a restful afternoon watching her daughter Jade play in their neighborhood playground.

Councilman Charles Barron and Council Speaker Gifford Miller
It was a well-earned respite. Most days, the Baruch College business major is balancing a full-time job and the duties of single parenthood with her pursuit of a college degree. Overcoming obstacles such as these is common for many of the thousands of students like Dunning who have benefitted from a special scholarship exclusive to CUNY: the Peter F. Vallone Academic Scholarship Program.

“Without the Vallone Scholarship, it is very unlikely I’d be in school,” said Dunning, who hopes to find a career in education policy. “I’ve been working full-time as a bookkeeper, but there’s just no way I could stay without the scholarship.”

The Vallone Scholarship, named for the former City Council Speaker, was established by the New York City Council in 1997. Students who maintain a B average are eligible to receive up to $1,000 a year to pay for tuition. Since its inception, the program has helped 35,000 students to achieve their goals at CUNY.

“These scholarships represent the best possible investment the city can make,” Chancellor Matthew Goldstein has said. “Those who attend and graduate from college earn far more money and pay far more in taxes than those who are denied access to higher education.”

Vallone scholarships are awarded on the basis of academic achievement. Anyone entering CUNY within a year of graduation from a New York City high school, public or private, qualifies for one—if he or she graduated with a B average or better. Baccalaureate candidates are eligible for scholarships for up to ten semesters; candidates for associate degrees are eligible for six semesters of Vallone aid. They must maintain a B average and remain full-time students, though one-year leaves of absence can be granted in exceptional cases. If the GPA falls below 3.0, the student is no longer eligible, and reinstatement can only occur if the college and University officials determine there are “extreme extenuating circumstances.”

In the Fall 2002 semester almost 8,500 CUNY students, representing every CUNY campus, were being helped by the Vallone Scholarship program. Of this total, 3,188 were Brooklyn residents, 3,074 from Queens. The Bronx and Staten Island each had nearly 800 recipients, and the rest were from Manhattan.

Over the years, budget cutting has trimmed the scholarships from $1,450 a year to the current $1,000. The possibility that they could be cut further haunts students like Yefim Khaydatov, a 19-year-old junior at Queens College who hopes to be a dentist. “I’m from an immigrant family and, as in any immigrant family, education has a high priority,” said Khaydatov, who came here from Uzbekistan when he was 12. Unable to afford private school, he nevertheless excelled. “I ended up taking hard classes, doing well, getting scholarships so that my parents wouldn’t have the burden of paying for my education.”

Khaydatov has a minimum-wage job in the Queensborough Public Library that helps him pay for textbooks and supplies. “Let me give you an idea of what we students face,” he said. “One of my biology textbooks costs $145.” Without programs like the Vallone Scholarships, he predicted that “fewer students are going to be applying to college. They’re going to wind up going for jobs as barbers, waiters, shoe repairers. And when they do, they’ll be taking the job of another individual who will then be unemployed.”

Priya Shah is a 19-year-old sophomore with a 4.0 GPA in the Honors College, a columnist for the Baruch College newspaper, looking forward to a career in asset management. If the Vallone Scholarship were to disappear, she said, “It would affect everything I do. I’d have to be thinking of how to replace that money and not about writing my column.” Shah says of her friends, “A lot of them are raising families. If the Vallones were to go away, it would jeopardize their ability to go to college.”

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