More than 16,000 undergraduate students in the CUNY system identify as being of Puerto Rican descent. Since its founding in 1961, the network of 24 institutions has a long history with the Puerto Rican community in New York City. After Hurricane Maria, many college students on the island will turn to CUNY in the coming weeks and months to continue their education, which has been interrupted by lack of electricity, as well as limited access to food, water, and transportation, among other things.
Since the storm, colleges and universities across the United States have offered to help students in Puerto Rico that have decided to relocate because of Hurricane Maria. On October 23rd, for example, the CUNY Board of Trustees unanimously voted to authorize a resolution allowing students from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands to pay in-state tuition for the 2017-18 academic year, a difference of $10,870 per semester. The SUNY Board of Trustees announced their 29 campuses would do the same. In-state tuition has since become the standard offering, though in certain cases, academic institutions have volunteered to go the extra mile. Brown University, for example, has offered by far the most comprehensive resources to Puerto Rican students.
CUNY officials are also currently looking for support funds to offset the difference of roughly $4,500 between CUNY tuition and that of the University of Puerto Rico, as well as for costs of living for students with no family in the area. As far as housing is concerned, there is a short-term agreement with Airbnb at the moment for students and scholars to receive about two weeks of free housing. Additional financial assistance will be available on a case-by-case basis, with discretion in the hands of the college presidents of each CUNY institution. CUNY Chancellor James B. Milliken also reported that private funds were being raised to help displaced students.
CUNY resources are being made available specifically for Puerto Rican researchers as well. A press release states that “CUNY is making laboratory and other space available to University of Puerto Rico faculty and setting up a grant process for collaborative work on recovery issues.” Each Puerto Rican scholar that joins CUNY will also receive $1,000. CUNY will work to secure funds to cover the cost of materials and living expenses in the coming months.
There are other proposals on table, some of which are aimed at long term support for Puerto Rican students and scholars alike. That includes establishing a point of contact at each CUNY campus for Puerto Rican students, allocating funds for any initiative related to the accommodation of this influx of new students, and making sure that those on the island are aware of what CUNY will be offering them now and in the future.
Two such examples of long term support happened in just the past few days. First, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies hosted a symposium alongside the Puerto Rican Studies Association where Puerto Rican scholars were given a forum to discuss important strategies and ideas related to the post-Maria recovery efforts in Puerto Rico. Many of the topics addressed will continue to be a point of emphasis, which goes toward the second example. On October 31st, the National Science Foundation awarded CUNY a one-year grant in support of its research on “how storms develop and intensify” in the Caribbean, along with the potential impact of each storm.
These initiatives are top of the many relief efforts being coordinated by CUNY institutions throughout New York City on a daily basis. That includes, among other things, establishing drop-off locations around the city, collecting monetary donations, offering counseling, and organizing fundraising events. As a part of Hunter College, the Center for Puerto Rican Studies’ Rebuild Puerto Rico clearinghouse also falls under the umbrella of CUNY-led initiatives, which is to say, that this is a collective effort, one that will continue in the days, weeks, months, and years ahead.
*UPDATE: On November 19th, CUNY announced via press release that the Heckscher Foundation for Children has committed a grant of $100,000 to help cover tuition costs and fees for students from Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands that have been displaced by recent hurricanes. According to the grant application submitted by CUNY, the amount should cover the costs of an estimated 80 incoming students.