CUNY's history dates back to the formation of the Free Academy in 1847 by Townsend Harris. The school was fashioned as "a Free Academy for the purpose of extending the benefits of education gratuitously to persons who have been pupils in the common schools of the … city and county of New York". The Free Academy later became the City College of New York, the oldest institution among the CUNY colleges. From this grew a system of seven senior colleges, four hybrid schools, six community colleges, as well as graduate schools and professional programs. CUNY was established in 1961 as the umbrella institution encompassing the municipal colleges and a new graduate school.
Over the years, the configuration of the institutions of CUNY has changed. The current College of Staten Island, the largest CUNY school by land area, is the result of a merger between Richmond College (upper-division college founded in 1965) and Staten Island Community College (lower-division college founded in 1955). Lehman College was formerly a branch campus of Hunter College that was known as Hunter-in-the-Bronx.
The City College is the oldest institution of CUNY, having been founded in 1847. Established in 2008, the School of Public Health is the newest addition to the University.