TODAY’S City University of New York dates back to the 1847 founding of the Free Academy by Townsend Harris, an early champion of public education and a pioneering diplomat who was the United States’ first ambassador to Japan. With an inaugural class of 143 students, the Academy set upon a mission to “educate the whole people,” in Harris’ words, providing public higher education to a small group of academically qualified young men. The Academy quickly grew in reputation and enrollment and, as a new century approached, plans were approved for an expansive neo-Gothic campus uptown for what became known as the College of the City of New York. Twenty years after the first young men entered the Academy, a separate school for the education of teachers, the Female Normal and High School, later renamed Hunter College in honor of its founder Thomas Hunter, offered the same higher education opportunities to women.
Fueled by an immigration boom in the early 20th century, City College and Hunter expanded to include evening session branches in Brooklyn and Queens. In 1926, the state Legislature established a Board of Higher Education to oversee the growing municipal college system and expand public access in the city’s outer boroughs. Over the next decade, Brooklyn College and Queens College were founded, and Hunter established a Bronx campus, which decades later would become Lehman College.
Despite the city’s limited resources, demand for public higher education continued to grow during the Great Depression era. The colleges created night divisions that charged affordable tuition while offering students the opportunity to work toward their degrees or raise their grades to the levels required to enter the colleges’ free baccalaureate programs. In the ensuing post-World War II years, another dramatic enrollment boom led to the creation of several community colleges, including one on Staten Island. In 1961, the state Legislature formally established The City University of New York, uniting what by then had become seven municipal colleges into a formally integrated system, and authorizing the new University to offer doctoral programs. Demand increased further during the 1960s, leading to a six-year period when tuition was briefly eliminated and senior college admission was given to any city resident with a high school diploma or equivalency degree. Today, the senior colleges have selective admission requirements. Community colleges continue to serve as portals to opportunity for applicants with a high school or GED diploma.
Since 2000, billions of dollars have been reinvested to rebuild, enhance and expand the University’s 24 campuses. The CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, CUNY School of Public Health, the Macaulay Honors College and the innovative Guttman Community College are among the colleges and graduate schools recently established. This greatly expanded University, serving record enrollments, offers tuition-free education to nearly six in 10 full-time undergraduates thanks to federal, state and CUNY financial aid. In contrast to the crushing debt other students typically carry at many public and private institutions, 85 percent of CUNY’s full-time students are student loan debt free.
The University’s 21st century mission remains true to its founding principles of academic excellence, scholarship and opportunity for all. CUNY boasts 12 Nobel laureates and the tradition of high academic achievement continues as CUNY students prestigious Rhodes, Fulbright, National Science Foundation, Truman and Goldwater scholarships. With a flourishing reputation among students and educators alike, CUNY is defining value by providing the opportunity of a lifetime: a high-quality, competitive and remarkably affordable college education. It’s an education that delivers in the marketplace, producing job-ready graduates with respected academic credentials. It’s a 21st-century education, taught by top scholars on upgraded campuses, that is transforming the student experience, bringing jobs to New York and stimulating economic development.
That’s why more high-achieving students, and more students of all backgrounds and abilities, are choosing to study in vibrant New York City, at the City University of New York.
For a detailed report on CUNY’s history visit: http://www1.cuny.edu/mu/forum/2011/09/16/the-birth-of-a-modern-university/
Our National Landmarks >>
By the Numbers
- From 143 students in 1847 to 270,000 degree students in 2013.
- In 1870, Hunter College became the first school to offer free education to women.
- Since 2000, the University has raised more than $700 million for scholarships.
- The CUNY Graduate Center offers seven master’s degree programs and more than 30 doctoral programs.