SUNY vs. CUNY: Comparing New York's College Systems

SUNY Administration Building In Albany, New York
SUNY Administration Building In Albany, New York. traveler1116 / Getty Images

Students wishing to attend a public college or university in New York state have dozens of options from which to choose. The state has two university systems: CUNY, the City University of New York, and SUNY, the State University of New York. Both systems are made up of numerous campuses that range from two-year community colleges to specialized graduate institutions. CUNY campuses are all located in the New York City area, while SUNY campuses can be found throughout the state.

The CUNY System

The City University of New York system is made up of 24 institutions: 7 community colleges, 11 senior colleges, and 6 graduate institutions. The oldest, City College, was founded in 1847, while the most recent, the School of Public Health, was founded in 2008.

Historically, CUNY was grounded in the idea of easy access and social mobility. The original school was free, and campuses once had open admissions. Today, the two-year community colleges still have open admissions (although spaces may be limited), and low tuition combined with generous financial aid make a college education accessible to most people.

Some of the CUNY senior colleges are quite selective, with acceptance rates below 50% and average grades and SAT scores of admitted students tending to be well above average. Unlike many of the SUNY schools, the CUNY schools cater to a significant population of commuter students.

Macaulay Honors College at CUNY

The strongest CUNY applicants should look into the Macaulay Honors College at CUNY; it's one of New York City's great treasures designed to support high achieving students regardless of their financial situation. Any student applying to Lehman College, City College, Queens College, Brooklyn College, Baruch College, College of Staten Island, Hunter College, or John Jay College can apply to Macaulay. Students take classes at their home institution, but can also participate in seminars, lectures, and events at the Macaulay building on Manhattan's Upper West Side. All Macaulay students get a full in-state tuition scholarship, a laptop computer, a Cultural Passport, and other academic and cultural perks.

CUNY Senior Colleges
School Location # of Students Admit Rate Tuition
Baruch College Manhattan 18,029 43% $7,462 $15,412
The City College Manhattan 16,043 46% $7,340 $15,290
Hunter College Manhattan 23,202 35% $7,382 $15,332
John Jay College of Criminal Justice Manhattan 15,394 41% $7,470 $15,420
Lehman College The Bronx 14,787 38% $7,410 $15,360
Brooklyn College Brooklyn 18,161 45% $7,440 $15,390
College of Technology Brooklyn 17,269 88% $7,320 $15,270
Medgar Evers College Brooklyn 6,638 90% $7,352 $15,302
College of Staten Island Staten Island 13,247 open $7,490 $15,490
Queens College Queens 19,746 49% $7,538 $15,488
York College Queens 8,693 73% $7,358 $15,308
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics

The SUNY System

The SUNY system is unusual among state university systems for its impressive breadth of relatively small colleges and universities. The entire system is made up of 64 institutions: 4 large university centers, 13 comprehensive four-year colleges, 7 specialized technology colleges, 30 community colleges, 5 graduate institutions, a statutory college at Alfred University, and 4 statutory colleges at Cornell University.

Like the CUNY system, admissions range from highly selective at schools such as Geneseo, Binghamton, and the Cornell statutory colleges, to open admission at the many community colleges.

SUNY University Centers

The system's University Centers are large, comprehensive universities with broad offerings at the undergraduate and graduate levels. All grant doctoral degrees; the University at Buffalo has the system's sole law school. The university centers have higher tuition than any of the other CUNY or SUNY schools. The price difference is especially significant for out-of-state students.

SUNY University Centers
School # of Students Admit Rate Tuition
Binghamton Universy 17,768 41% $10,201 $27,791
Stony Brook University 26,256 44% $10,175 $27,845
University at Albany 17,944 54% $10,176 $27,766
University at Buffalo 31,503 61% $10,524 $28,194
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics

SUNY University Colleges

The University Colleges are four-year institutions smaller than the University Centers, and they tend to have a predominantly undergraduate focus and a few master's programs. Selectivity can vary significantly from campus to campus. The University Colleges are residential and most students live on campus.

SUNY University Colleges
School # of Students Admit Rate Tuition
Brockport 8,287 55% $8,680 $18,590
Buffalo State College 9,118 67% $8,472 $18,182
Cortland 6,858 46% $8,806 $18,716
Empire State College 10,424 open $7,605 $17,515
Fredonia 4,655 71% $8,717 $18,627
Geneseo 5,612 65% $8,927 $18,837
New Paltz 7,608 45% $8,502 $18,412
Old Westbury 5,087 78% $8,368 $18,278
Oneonta 6,543 56% $8,740 $18,650
Oswego 7,986 54% $8,717 $18,627
Plattsburgh 5,704 58% $8,872 $18,782
Potsdam 3,521 68% $8,711 18,621
Purchase 4,234 52% $8,923 $18,833
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics

SUNY Technology Colleges

The Technology Colleges can be viewed as a marriage between a community college and a traditional four-year residential college. The Technology Colleges offer two- and four-year degrees as well as some certificate programs. Many of the degree programs are in practical, technological fields. Some students commute while others live on campus.

SUNY Technology Colleges
School # of Students Admit Rate Tuition
Alfred State College 3,737 67% $8,852 $15,477
Farmingdale State College 9,970 55% $8,538 $18,448
Morrisville State College 2,986 75% $8,870 $18,780
SUNY Canton 3,213 85% $8,650 $12,580
SUNY Cobleskill 2,278 54% $8,884 $18,794
SUNY Delhi 3,232 72% $8,560 $12,330
SUNY Maritime College 1,734 74% $8,508 $18,418
Data from the National Center for Education Statistics

SUNY and CUNY Community Colleges

The 30 community colleges in the SUNY system and seven community colleges in the CUNY system have open admissions and relatively low tuition (roughly $5,000–$5,500 for in-state students and $8,00–$10,500 for out-of-state students). The majority of students commute, and the schools offer evening and weekend courses to accommodate students with family and work obligations.

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Grove, Allen. "SUNY vs. CUNY: Comparing New York's College Systems." ThoughtCo, Jul. 31, 2020, Grove, Allen. (2020, July 31). SUNY vs. CUNY: Comparing New York's College Systems. Retrieved from Grove, Allen. "SUNY vs. CUNY: Comparing New York's College Systems." ThoughtCo. (accessed June 10, 2023).