SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said community colleges can help lead the economic recovery because they can adapt their programs to changing economic needs.
“You can be a model for our four-year institutions who have to respond to labor market trends,” she said during a visit to Schenectady County Community College on Monday afternoon.
Zimpher, who became chancellor July 1, met with faculty, staff and students during her two-hour visit. She is touring all 64 campuses in the State University of New York system to develop a new strategic plan for SUNY.
Zimpher said SUNY administration’s greatest challenge is getting the individual colleges to work together. “Why have a system if it’s not about sharing, collaboration, partnerships and taking ideas that are working well at one campus and scaling that across a larger portion of the system?”
She said SUNY colleges also have to increase their connections with the business community for internships and other initiatives.
“I would like to build up a partnership where the people get trained here and stay to live and work here,” she said.
Among some of her specific goals are to improve the ability of students to transfer between two-year and four-year colleges in the SUNY system, upgrade information technology at campuses and make facilities more green.
Zimpher said she also wished that the Legislature would give SUNY a five-year budget, which would make it easier for long-range planning.
The goal is to finish up the site visits by Labor Day, Zimpher said. The next step is six or seven regional meetings to talk about the issues. Hopefully a rough outline of the plan will emerge by spring.
Zimpher said it is especially a good time for the state’s community colleges to brainstorm ideas because President Obama has proposed a 10-year, $13 billion initiative for community colleges. The request for proposals will go out next year.
SCCC President Quintin Bullock is looking to expand programs at the college in alternative energy such as wind power, nanoscale materials and nutrition in addition to building upon its successful offerings in criminal justice and emergency management.
Schenectady County Legislature Chairwoman Susan Savage, D-Niskayuna, told Zimpher it is important to raise the profile of community colleges. She said community colleges are targeted every year when the state Legislature considers budget cuts.
“We’re the afterthought. Four-year institutions are really the bread and butter,” she said.
Chamber of Schenectady President Chuck Steiner said 24 chambers from New York state have worked together to promote this area of upstate New York as “Tech Valley.” Similar collaboration has to happen at the state level, he said.
Zimpher agreed. “We can’t do economic development for the region one college at a time,” she said.
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