I could hardly believe it when Governor Andrew Cuomo visited my campus this month to propose free public college tuition for New York students. Standing in the LaGuardia Community College auditorium, I was grateful because I know firsthand what a struggle it can be to juggle a full-time job and classes.
I’ve always worked hard and wanted to earn a college degree even though it seemed like an impossible dream. I was born into an underprivileged family in the Philippines. When I graduated as valedictorian of my high school my aunt offered me a deal – she would let me live with her in New York to attend college if I could cover tuition. I quickly enrolled at LaGuardia Community College in Queens, NY. To make ends meet, I began working two jobs, while maintaining a full-time course load and a wide range of extracurricular activities. With so much to manage, I sometimes struggle to maintain my 3.5 GPA and remain eligible for merit scholarships.
If tuition were free, it would be easier to focus on my studies. I know because last fall, I caught a break. The college foundation gave me free tuition for a semester. It changed my life; alleviating sleepless nights spent worrying about how to pay for school. Without having to work as many hours, I submitted class requirements early, expanded my network, and earned an A in every class.
That’s why I’ve been honored to serve on the Student Leadership Committee of Heads Up America for the past year. We advocate for free community college and my role is building momentum here in New York. I am happy to say that my steadfast work has paid off. Governor Cuomo’s proposed “Excelsior Scholarship” would be available to college students with family incomes of less than $125,000 attending any CUNY or SUNY campus. If approved by the New York Legislature, students would begin using the scholarship this fall. This gives me hope.
At LaGuardia, we challenge expectations and dare to do more. During my studies, I have met exceptional students who manage to succeed despite their financial struggles. We have a lot to juggle, beyond just succeeding in the classroom. We want to be catalysts for change; aspiring inventors and leaders daring to create breakthroughs for global improvement. We are parents, immigrants, and minorities who believe that the only way to achieve the American Dream is through a college education.
I support free college because it allows more of us to succeed in the classroom, earn a degree, find a good job, and advance our lives without spiraling into endless debt. That’s good for everyone – for students, families, and communities.
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