By Anna Gustafson
More than 500 students, teachers and community members packed the Queens College library in Flushing last Thursday evening to protest the proposed $600 annual increase in tuition and $81.6 million cut in state aid to CUNY.
Students railed against the proposals, with many of the dozens of students who spoke saying they may not be able to afford to return to college with a spike in tuition.
“This semester, I almost had to drop out because it’s too hard to pay for tuition,” said Maimoona Mahmood, a sophomore with an Aâˆ’average at Queensborough Community College in Bayside. “My dad was supporting me to go to school, but he just lost his job because the restaurant he worked in closed.”
Students, teachers and CUNY staff addressed their concerns to City Councilman Tony Avella (Dâˆ’Bayside) and representatives from the offices of state Sen. Toby Stavisky (Dâˆ’Whitestone), state Assemblywoman Grace Meng (Dâˆ’Flushing), Assemblyman Rory Lancman (Dâˆ’Fresh Meadows) and Councilman James Gennaro (Dâˆ’Fresh Meadows) at the event sponsored by the college’s Asian American Center and the Professional Staff Congress, the union representing CUNY teachers.
“In addition to time in class, many of our students have to work and for this many students to take time off to be here tells you how important this is,” said Hong Wu, director of Asian programs at Queens College.
Many of those who spoke became emotional during the budget hearing and explained why the $600 increase proposed for CUNY schools could break them or their families. One student spoke of needing to help with her parents’ mortgage payments, another said her mother had been battling cancer and could not afford to help her with school and many said they were working at least one job to make ends meet.
More than 60 percent of Queens College and Queensborough Community College students come from households that earn less than $40,000 a year, according to school statistics.
Jenny Lin, a Queensborough Community College student and the first in her family to go for a higher degree in the United States, cried while addressing the crowd and said her parents already worked too hard to ensure she could receive a good education.
“It’s going to be too hard for us,” Lin said. “We worked so hard to come here, and it was so hard for me to go to school. My mom pours all her hopes and dreams in me and there are many, many students in the same position as me.”
Queens College media studies Professor Jonathan Buchsbaum and Queensborough Community College Professor Judith Barbanel said Gov. David Paterson’s proposed budget would cut aid to CUNY at a time when enrollment is on the rise and is expected to continue to increase, as students strapped for cash turn to more affordable schools.
“Students should not have to pay for a budget deficit they had no part in creating,” said Buchsbaum, chapter chairman of the PSC union. “These cuts mean you’ll have fewer teachers, resources and larger classes. You won’t be able to find books in the library.”
Reach reporter Anna Gustafson by eâˆ’mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718âˆ’229âˆ’0300, Ext. 174.