Forget tuition, students can’t afford to get to class
As a child of immigrants living in the Bronx, my dream is to one day run for local elected office and bring positive change to my community. Yet, when I start to think about the cost of realizing my dreams, I am overwhelmed. College expenses add up quickly. Although it was once a free system, CUNY’s tuition has increased exponentially over the past several decades. Each and every tuition increase makes it more difficult for low- and middle-income students to afford an education.
The only thing a college student should have to worry about is their education: writing essays, studying for midterms and finals, and finding an internship. Instead, college students like myself are worried primarily about working enough hours to pay for tuition, books, MetroCards and helping our families with household needs.
Students in New York City are particularly burdened with transportation costs, as the cost of a monthly MetroCard increased to $121 in March, totaling almost $1,500 a year. Paying $2.75 or more per ride during the week to simply get to work and school is a financial strain for me. There have been times where I could not go to tutoring on weekends because I did not have the money for public transit. Some may argue that I should be able to afford the fare because I have a job. But, in addition to paying my college expenses, I am helping my family financially while also saving money for emergencies.
How do we expect New York City’s economy to flourish while making it even harder for communities of color to finish college?
I learned about the Fair Fares campaign, which would offer half-price MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers, while volunteering with the New York Public Interest Research Group at the Borough of Manhattan Community College. I care about Fair Fares because increasing transit costs are going to drive communities of color further into poverty. Many of the students that I go to school with at BMCC are Latino and black. Communities of color often have the highest levels of poverty. How do we expect New York City’s economy to flourish while making it even harder for communities of color to finish college, get a job or afford food, rent and child care? Why are we making it harder for students like myself to succeed?
I am disappointed that New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has yet to come out in support of Fair Fares when it so clearly would help low-income New Yorkers afford access to transportation. Fair Fares would help save low-income individuals hundreds of dollars a year in transportation costs, money that low-income students could instead use to pay for tuition, textbooks and toward building a better life.
Forcing a student to choose between paying for a much-needed textbook or a MetroCard puts them at a great disadvantage in the classroom. No student should have to give up a quality education because they can’t afford to get to class. It’s time that New York City invests in its low-income students by enacting Fair Fares.
Sharon Bardales is a student at the Borough of Manhattan Community College.
*City & State’s editorial board is partnering with the Community Service Society of New York and Riders Alliance to support the Fair Fares campaign, an effort to convince the New York City Council and Mayor Bill de Blasio to fund subsidized MetroCards for low-income New Yorkers. You can read our full Far Fares coverage here.