SUNY approves lower tuition for students from Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands in wake of recent hurricanes

Members of the Puerto Rico Army National Guard are (pictured above) clearing an area in the municipality of Cayey, following Hurrricane Maria’s destruction. The SUNY system has decreased the tuition that Puerto Rican and Virgin Islander students will have to pay in order to mitigate their financial difficulties. (Wilma Orozco/Creative Commons)

The SUNY Board of Trustees authorized SUNY schools to provide in-state college tuition prices for students from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands on Oct. 6. The SUNY initiative and specific Geneseo initiatives to provide assistance to the territories have arrived in the aftermath of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  

The decision was made due to the urging of New York State Gov. Andrew Cuomo and was codified by the SUNY Board of Trustees, according to an Oct. 6 SUNY press release. Cuomo reasoned that the state of New York has a duty to the communities in the wake of their tribulations, according to an Oct. 4 press release 

“The Puerto Rican community is one of the most vibrant communities in New York, with over 1.1 million Puerto Ricans calling the Empire State home,” Cuomo said in the Oct. 4 press release. “At the same time, more U.S. Virgin Islanders list their place of birth as New York than any other state in the nation … This action will alleviate a huge burden for these families as they try to repair and rebuild their lives.”

“Today we see SUNY and New York State at their very best, as we stand together and extend assistance to a community in need,” SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson said in an Oct. 6press release. “It is our hope that by easing the financial burden for students displaced by Hurricane Maria, they can stay in school and continue to work towards a degree.” 

If a student’s address is out-of-state during the application process when students are applying to a SUNY school, the student is charged a higher tuition, as is standard with the out-of-state tuition prices for SUNY, according to Vice President for Enrollment Management Meaghan Arena. This directive will affect students applying from Puerto Rico, but not students of Puerto Rican descent, according to Arena. 

SUNY will immediately begin working with its state-operated college campuses to help provide assistance for Puerto Rican students for the upcoming school year. Although Geneseo is committed to enacting this directive, the school does not expect a major impact on its student community, according to Arena.  

“I support the initiative SUNY-wide, it’s the right thing to do, but here … our students aren’t going to see much from that,” Arena said. “I don’t know the demographics of the other SUNYs but I’m sure system wide we have students for whom this will be a great benefit, they’re just not here.”

Psychology major sophomore Karina Cornier believes the actual benefits of the SUNY policy may actually be relatively minor. 

““I feel like it may seem like it’s going to help, but it won’t entirely help,” Cornier said. “Knowing how it is in Puerto Rico, I know paying for school will be a hard thing to cover regardless.”

While Geneseo doesn’t have students who come directly from Puerto Rico, there are students of Puerto Rican background with families that have been affected, according to Associate Dean of Leadership and Service Thomas Matthews. 

“We have a lot of families who have relatives in both the faculty and staff and the students’ relatives that live in Puerto Rico, so it’s terrific that SUNY is willing to help in this way,” Matthews said. 

Matthews, the current board chairman for Livingston CARES, which was started in response to the community’s overwhelming desire to provide assistance after Hurricane Katrina, hopes to establish similar methods of assistance and volunteer opportunities for Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. 

“We are trying to find some agencies that will be able to house people and be able to have work for volunteers to do ... that’s a difficult thing to plan,” Matthews said. “We are working on a service week trip, which in many cases tends to be helping low income families that couldn’t afford to hire contractors to help rebuild a house.”

Geneseo currently does not have a significant population of Puerto Rican students, but the response from the community has indicated residents’ desire to provide assistance for Puerto Rico, according to Matthews. 

“They’re still what we call, in the relief period,” Matthews said. “We can’t solve the problem of infrastructure ... but we can help one family at a time and hopefully that will happen.”

News editor Malachy Dempsey contributed reporting to this article.