CUNY Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund To Aid Students Impacted By Covid-19 Pandemic Grows By 70 Percent Since April Launch

Generosity of Foundations, Corporations and Individual Donors Enables University to Help 6,000 Students, More than Half of Them Undocumented Students Who Were Excluded from Federal CARES Act Relief
Fund Now Surpasses $5.5 Million, to Help More Than 5,000 Additional Students
The City University of New York’s Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund, established in the spring to help students facing financial hardship during the COVID-19 pandemic, has grown by more than $2.25 million, or 70 percent, surpassing $5.5 million in contributions, and awarded $500 grants to 6,000 CUNY students thus far, with funds on hand to help more than 5,000 additional students in coming months.

Since an initial round of grants in April to low-income students who were nearing graduation, the Chancellor’s Emergency Fund shifted the priority for June and July grants to undocumented students after the Trump administration excluded them from emergency financial relief disbursed to college students under the federal CARES Act.

To date, 57 percent of the recipients of the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief grants have been undocumented students. Grant recipients have been chosen from a group of about 14,000 students who were identified as meeting financial need, academic and other criteria. Students from foster care, students who are parents and international students are also being prioritized for emergency grants. The goal is to help at least 20,000 CUNY students.

“CUNY students have been greatly affected by the pandemic, and I sincerely thank all who have aided our efforts to help sustain them in these exceptional times; it makes me feel grateful and proud to know that, thanks to the great kindness and generosity of so many organizations and individuals, we’ve been able to provide a needed lifeline to a growing number of CUNY students,” said Chancellor Félix V. Matos Rodríguez. “We’re going to double down on these efforts to help even more of our students to maintain their academic momentum in the coming academic year.”

The emergency fund was launched in April with initial support of $1 million each from the Carroll and Milton Petrie Foundation and the James and Judith K. Dimon Foundation and $1.25 million combined from corporate, foundation and individual donors including $500,000 from Robin Hood, and a total of $750,000 from JPMorgan Chase, Deutsche Bank, Goldman Sachs, The Jeffrey H. and Shari L. Aronson Family Foundation, The Pinkerton Foundation, The Solon E. Summerfield Foundation and the Harman Family Foundation.

In the months since, donors have added over $2 million. Major new contributors include The New York Community Trust, the Gray Foundation, the Carnegie Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, the Altman Foundation, the Teagle Foundation, The ECMC Foundation, The Pershing Square Foundation, The Durst Organization, Citibank, and the Charina Endowment Fund Inc. In addition, Robin Hood made a second gift of $500,000 designated for grants to undocumented students.

The fund has also benefited from the generosity of more than 1,500 individual donors who have contributed over $170,000 online at and continue to do so. Half of the online donors so far are CUNY alumni, current and former staff and others with a connection to the CUNY family. The other half of these generous individuals are people who heard about CUNY’s role as an engine of economic development and social mobility and appreciated how extraordinarily hard CUNY students have been hit by this pandemic.

“Education provides the tools we need to survive in the best and the worst of times,” said Elaine Peterson, a donor from Montauk who heard about the emergency fund on CUNY’s Instagram feed, which included a video of Chancellor Matos Rodríguez explaining the urgent needs of CUNY students during the pandemic. “I can think of few things better to donate to in this crisis than to help CUNY students continue to learn, grow and succeed. We all benefit from that.”

“CUNY offers a superb education and opportunity to everyone — it welcomes people of color, undocumented immigrants and anyone else who might encounter discrimination or face financial difficulties,” said Stan Sesser, a retired Wall Street Journal reporter. “But the economic crisis caused by COVID-19 puts this in peril. That’s why I was happy to contribute to the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund for CUNY students. And when I got the Chancellor’s email of thanks, I found it so moving and persuasive that I sent a second contribution of triple the original amount. I’m proud to have helped.”

“CUNY plays a crucial role as a gateway to high-quality affordable education and upward economic mobility,” said William Neuenfeldt, senior managing director and chief operating officer of Centerbridge Partners. “Contributing to the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief Fund provided an opportunity to support CUNY’s important mission by providing financial assistance to students in need during this time of uncertainty and crisis.”

CUNY serves 275,000 degree-seeking students whose median household income is about $40,000 a year; 38 percent are from families earning less than $20,000. Nearly half work while in school, and many have found their jobs and incomes eliminated or drastically reduced during the pandemic — exacerbating financial pressures and challenges including food and housing insecurity and lack of access to health care.

“This is the best news I have gotten in a long time and sincerely appreciate it from the bottom of my heart,” a Baruch College student wrote in an email to the Chancellor. “I am so happy and grateful for the CUNY Chancellor emergency relief grant program and to everyone involved in making this possible. Thank you so much!!”  

“This relief grant will definitely help out my household as everyone is currently unemployed with very little liquidity. This summer, everyone will have to chip in a bit extra to make up for lost funds and reclaim financial stability. This grant is quite literally allowing my household to remain on its feet a bit longer,” wrote a Borough of Manhattan Community College student. 

Foundation and corporate donors whose generosity has helped grow the emergency fund in recent months said they were inspired to contribute by CUNY’s importance to the city and the urgent need of many of its students during the pandemic.

“In this challenging time, supporting CUNY is more vital than ever. We are proud to partner with the Chancellor to ensure students have the resources they need to continue learning,” said Mindy and Jon Gray, co-founders of the Gray Foundation.

“The Trust’s support of this critical CUNY initiative is a part of our commitment to ensure that undocumented students and those who have spent time in foster care get the support they need to reach their educational goals and become self-sustaining adults,” said Natasha Lifton, senior program officer at The New York Community Trust. “We applaud the Chancellor’s efforts to support CUNY students during this difficult time.”

“CUNY is critical to the success of our city,” said Douglas Durst, chairman of The Durst Organization. “We are proud to support this dynamic institution and the work they do to educate, enlighten and improve New York City.”

“For years, we have been incredibly proud to help provide scholarships for undocumented students at CUNY,” said Bill Ackman and Neri Oxman, trustees of The Pershing Square Foundation. “Now, more than ever, we believe that it is important to support and stand by students during this difficult time.”

The City University of New York is the nation’s largest urban public university, a transformative engine of social mobility that is a critical component of the lifeblood of New York City. Founded in 1847 as the nation’s first free public institution of higher education, CUNY today has seven community colleges11 senior colleges and seven graduate or professional institutions spread across New York City’s five boroughs, serving 500,000 students of all ages and awarding 55,000 degrees each year. CUNY’s mix of quality and affordability propels almost six times as many low-income students into the middle class and beyond as all the Ivy League colleges combined. More than 80 percent of the University’s graduates stay in New York, contributing to all aspects of the city’s economic, civic and cultural life and diversifying the city’s workforce in every sector. CUNY’s graduates and faculty have received many prestigious honors, including 13 Nobel Prizes and 26 MacArthur “Genius” Grants. The University’s historic mission continues to this day: provide a first-rate public education to all students, regardless of means or background.

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