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Jan. 25, 2024, 3:59 p.m.
Reporting & Production

A tuition-free J-school? CUNY aims to be one by 2027

Thanks to a $10 million gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies announced Thursday, the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY will cover full tuition for half of its class starting in August 2025.

Is J-school worth $50,000+ in debt to break into an industry where, if you’re lucky enough to get a job, you’re unlikely to get paid enough to break even on your debt?

With the disappearance of journalism jobs accelerating, critics of J-school’s fundamental cost-benefit problem are imagining and offering alternatives. The staggering inaccessibility of a graduate journalism degree magnifies the inequities that mean, as Nieman Lab founder Josh Benton wrote in 2021, “American journalists look less and less like the country they cover — in terms of race, class, and background.”

One thing that would dramatically change the calculus for prospective students considering a graduate degree in journalism? Not having to take on any debt. On Thursday, the City University of New York’s Craig Newmark Journalism School announced that it was one step closer to making that dream a reality for all students — thanks to a $10 million gift from Craig Newmark Philanthropies, the school will cover full tuition for half of its class starting in August 2025. The school intends to raise $30 million more by the end of 2026, which would bring its endowment to $60 million — enough to “offer fully free tuition in perpetuity to its entire student body.”

A quarter of the class of 2024 is already attending Newmark J-School on full scholarships, and another 65% received partial scholarships, per the school’s press release announcing the donation.

So, how will the school determine which half of its class starting in 2025 studies tuition-free? “Our scholarship allocations are based on an evaluation of both need and merit,” Graciela Mochkofsky, the school’s dean, told me in an email Thursday. The school will cover half of tuition for students across its two masters’ programs, she added — its M.A. in journalism (which includes a bilingual program), and M.A. in engagement journalism.

Newmark J-School’s typical class size includes about 100 students, Mochkofsky told me, “but we are aiming to grow future classes to 110 and one day, 120.” For the class starting in August 2025, the school would cover tuition for about 50-60 students.

“If we raise the remaining $30 million by the end of 2026, we will be able to start drawing from [the endowment] in 2027, offering full tuition coverage for that incoming class” that starts in August 2027, Mochkofsky told me.

Craig Newmark had previously donated $20 million to the journalism school in 2018, leading to the school being renamed for him the following year.

Newmark shared the following statement about the $10 million donation with me in an email Thursday:

Trustworthy journalists who speak truth to power help defend the country by defending our democracy. This reflects my work with military families and vets, it seems seriously patriotic to defend our defenders.

Our country’s adversaries aim to fake outrage in order to divide and weaken Americans. We rely on the media to tell us what’s going on, hold the powerful accountable, and to deliver the information that people need to stand up for democracy. No school is more effective than CUNY Graduate School of Journalism in training the next generation of journalists.

A nerd’s gotta do what a nerd’s gotta do.

CUNY’s tuition and fees for a three-semester master’s in journalism will currently run you $18,609.35 if you’re a New York State resident, and $38,739.35 if you’re out-of-state (its engagement journalism program is about $2,000 cheaper for out-of-staters). That’s already a far lower price tag than the ones attached to many private graduate journalism schools, like Columbia (tuition and fees: $84,869, or about $40k more for its M.S. in data journalism) and Northwestern ($73,638). Other J-schools are thinking about how to lessen the burden of those price tags on their students, too — last spring, Columbia announced a program to help alumni in nonprofit news pay back their student loans. But if Newmark J-School can meet its goal, it would be “the first top-tier graduate journalism school in the United States” to educate all of its students free of charge.

2026 will mark Newmark J-School’s 20th anniversary. This tuition-free initiative is the core goal of its capital campaign in honor of that anniversary.

“Our vision is to grow a larger applicant pool and attract many more people who have a passion for journalism and who are mission-driven — especially individuals who want to serve the public but wouldn’t consider this profession due to economic reasons, but now this is a viable option for them,” Mochkofsky told me. “Newmark J-School’s goal is to eliminate barriers that hinder people from diverse backgrounds and experiences from accessing exceptional journalism training, and the opportunity to start a career in journalism, and then stay in journalism for as long as possible.”

Photo of New York City by Dan Freeman on Unsplash.

Sophie Culpepper is a staff writer at Nieman Lab. You can reach her via email ( or Twitter DM (@s_peppered).
POSTED     Jan. 25, 2024, 3:59 p.m.
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