Emergency Relief Fund for Undocumented and Low-Income Students: Evidence from CUNY, the Public University System in New York City

Awarded Scholars:
Núria Rodríguez-Planas, Queens College, City University of New York
Rafael de Balanzó Joue, Queens College, City University of New York
Project Date:
Mar 2021
Award Amount:

Co-funded by Carnegie Corporation of New York

As the working-class neighborhoods in New York City’s outer boroughs became the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, many low-income college students saw their families and communities struggle, and their educational careers disrupted. At the City University of New York (CUNY), 38 percent of students reported having lost a job by the end of April 2020 and many reported having trouble paying for food, childcare, housing, and utilities, as college classes moved online, and the city went into partial shutdown. To provide rapid response financial support, CUNY introduced the Chancellor’s Emergency Relief (CER) grant, a one-time $500 lottery-based grant for students with demonstrated financial need, including undocumented students. A total of 19,168 students (77 percent of those eligible) applied for the grant and in each of three waves, and 2,000 qualifying students received the grant. To understand how the COVID-19 pandemic and the CER grant affected educational outcomes, economist Nuria Rodríguez-Planas and her collaborator, an urban studies scholar, will conduct a three-part project. The first part entails online student surveys of a representative sample of CUNY students and the 25,000 eligible for CER grants. The surveys will be fielded in Spring 2021 and 2022 and Fall 2022 and will ask about students’ financial and personal wellbeing, coping behavior, and the effects of receipt of stimulus payments on consumer behavior and wellbeing. Responses will be merged with CUNY administrative records on grades, credits registered for and earned, and major of choice for all years that students are in the system.


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