Undocumented, part-time and disabled students rally for inclusion in governor’s free college program

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, D-Elmont, spoke to share her support of including undocumented, part time, and disabled students in the excelsior scholarship proposed by the Governor. Gazette photo by Jonathan Forrester

Legislators and student advocates of the CORE coalition (College Opportunity and Resource Expansion) rallied to ensure that Governor Cuomo’s Excelsior Scholarship program include undocumented students, part time students and students with disabilities.

The Excelsior Scholarship, announced in January, would cover tuition costs for students whose families earn less than $125,000 per year. Students would be required to enroll full time and graduate in four years. Under the proposal, more than 940,000 families across the state will be eligible.

The CORE coalition argues that this proposition leaves out undocumented students and disabled students, who may not be able to handle a full course load every semester due to family obligations and financial shortcomings. Undocumented immigrant students do not receive any financial aid assistance for college, and often cannot qualify for scholarships due to their immigration status.

Several students spoke at the rally event and shared their stories of managing college, multiple jobs and supporting their families.

“CUNY is the American dream machine, because its cost enables families like mine to have access to a quality and affordable education, in the hopes that one day a college degree will help lift my family out of our current financial shortcomings,” Christopher Espinoza, a student at John Jay college said. “It is not cheap, so I have to work multiple part time jobs to make ends meet. Every semester, I struggle to pay my tuition in full while trying to provide for my family.”

Assemblywoman Michaelle Solages, D-Elmont, joined the coalition and promised not to support the Excelsior Program unless undocumented and disabled students are included. “Excelsior means “ever upward.” And we need to make sure that we are pushing everyone up the ladders of opportunity,” Solages said. “So I urge Gov. Cuomo and all the legislative leaders to be smart about implementing a piece of legislation that excludes New Yorkers.”

The new initiative will be phased in over three years, beginning for New Yorkers making up to $100,000 annually in the fall of 2017, increasing to $110,000 in 2018, and reaching $125,000 in 2019.

Undocumented immigrant and CORE advocate Ivy Teng shares her story with the crowd. Gazette photo by Jonathan Forrester

Undocumented immigrant and CORE advocate Ivy Teng came to New York from Macau when she was seven years old, and worked her way through college while working multiple part time jobs.

“This experience of hardship I went through to go through college, made me committed to fighting for those who come after me,” Teng said. “We all want a shot at pursuing higher education, and dreaming without having to work without four low wage jobs and graduating without crushing debt.”