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What is CUNY Comeback Program? Universities to use $125M in Covid relief to help students

University announces plans to use Covid-19 relief funds to wipe out student debt, provide emergency grants under 'landmark' program
UPDATED JUL 29, 2021
Graduates of Baruch College in 2004 (Mario Tama/Getty Images) with an insert of the CUNY logo (CUNY/Facebook)
Graduates of Baruch College in 2004 (Mario Tama/Getty Images) with an insert of the CUNY logo (CUNY/Facebook)

Universities around the world have suffered a drop in admission rates, as the Covid-19 pandemic continues to put off physical classes. Adding to the woes, millions of students have been forced to defer admissions after the economic consequences of the lockdown, with lower-income groups suffering the worst. In a bid to address the two issues, the City University of New York (CUNY) has announced a new "landmark" program, dubbed the Comeback Program. 

CUNY's use of Covid-19 relief funds is an outlier, over the past year, we have covered numerous examples of how the funds have been misused, and improperly given. In April 2020, Harvard University agreed to return $8.6 million it got in relief after then-President Donald Trump shamed the university. Then in May, entrepreneur Mo Fayne was charged with fraud after spending $2m from the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) on jewelry and child support, rather than his trucking company. In April 2021, we reported on Maryland pastor Rudolph Brooks Jr, who used PPP loans to buy 39 cars including a Tesla. 


Florida man charged with fraud for using $4M Covid-19 relief fund to purchase Lamborghini, other luxury items

Church of Scientology obtained Covid-19 relief loans for three branches despite $2 billion estimated worth

As the stories show, it is very easy for someone to misuse the Covid-19 relief, while millions of others struggled to get by after being laid off, or furloughed because of the pandemic. According to recent data, 20 million adults live in households that did not get enough to eat and 11.4 million adult renters are behind on rent. To ensure that the hardships don't affect education, CUNY has launched its new Comeback Program, to bring students back to the university.


What is the Comeback Program?

Under the CUNY Comeback Program, the university will cover the costs of unpaid tuition and fee balances. It will also offer grants to students in other financial difficulties. The university will use $125m in federal funds for the program, which is expected to impact around 50,000 students. "This landmark new program eliminates millions of dollars in unpaid debt, providing much-needed relief to tens of thousands of CUNY students as they work to get back on their feet after the pandemic and plan for their futures," New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said.

CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodriguez added, "This compassionate action will allow CUNY students and recent graduates to move ahead in pursuit of their educational and career objectives without the specter of unpaid tuition and fees. This landmark measure will also enhance CUNY’s important contributions to New York’s economic recovery." Reportedly, the move was finalized by the CUNY Board of Trustees during a July 6 meeting.

It is reported that the average debt balance is about $2,000 at CUNY, with a large number of students graduating debt-free thanks to state and federal aid. The New York Post reported three in four undergraduate students have graduated debt-free, while around 69% attend tuition-free. Despite those large numbers, many students have suffered hardships because they work part-time while attending CUNY. 

The program is also likely to benefit CUNY, which has seen a massive drop-off in admissions due to Covid-19. On average, CUNY admissions dropped 4.4% for the fall semester in 2020, compared to the 2.9% increase in 2019. Overall, in 2020 around 603,000 fewer Americans enrolled in college or university as compared to 2019. That represents a drop-off of 3.5% on average but is highly skewed towards public colleges. One report estimated private colleges attended by affluent students saw only a 1.1% decline while public four-year colleges saw a decline of 2.5%.

CUNY Chancellor Matos Rodríguez announces the program in a YouTube video. (CUNY/YouTube)

How to apply?

According to the CUNY website, the program is the largest of its kind in the US. All students who were enrolled at any time between March 13, 2020, and the end of the Spring 2021 semester at any CUNY college are eligible for the program. That covers both recent graduates and those who dropped out. Eligible students will also have to fulfill one of the following criteria:
1) Students determined to have hardship, using similar criteria employed to allocate the federal Student Emergency Grants in Spring 2020 and Spring 2021.
2)  Students who owe any outstanding balance from the Spring 2020 semester through the Spring 2021 semester.
3) Students who have an outstanding balance of $100 or less per semester, for any of the following semesters: Spring 2020, Summer 2020, Fall 2020, and Spring 2021. 

If you tick one of the three boxes, the university will automatically send you an email informing you that your fees have been waived. If you wish to apply for a grant, CUNY will send out emails detailing how to do so very soon. You can find out more about the Comeback Program on the dedicated website set up by CUNY