Schenectady County

SUNY chief seeks closer college ties

Allowing students to more easily transfer credits from two-year to four-year SUNY colleges and shari

Allowing students to more easily transfer credits from two-year to four-year SUNY colleges and sharing administrative costs are part of Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher’s goal of building up SUNY’s “systemness.”

Zimpher created that word to describe her desire for more collaboration among campuses and efficient operations.

“If Stephen Colbert can do it with ‘truthiness,’ so can we,” Zimpher said in her State of the University address at The Egg on Monday, referring to the faux newsman on Comedy Central and the word he created.

Zimpher said she hoped to build on some of the accomplishments of the past year, including $4.4 billion worth of private investment at the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, where five companies are partnering on research to develop the next generation of computer wafers. Also, the Legislature passed NY SUNY 2020, which implemented a five-year plan for predictable increases in tuition. In addition, SUNY has received recognition, such as U.S. News & World Report ranking seven SUNY campuses among the top 25 public universities in the north.

Among Zimpher’s new priorities are to implement by next fall a system where any student who graduates from a SUNY community college with an associate degree will be able to transfer to a four-year SUNY institution and have their two-year degree satisfy their general course requirements.

Zimpher also said SUNY must try to reduce administrative costs and use those savings to hire more full-time faculty and add courses that help students complete degrees. She pointed to the agreement between SUNY Delhi and SUNY Cobleskill to share President Candace Vancko, although Zimpher acknowledged that the transition hasn’t been easy.

The administrative services that could be shared among SUNY campuses include processing payroll and benefits, purchasing and travel.

During the next three years, Zimpher said, all SUNY schools will decrease their administrative spending by 5 percent and that money — about $100 million — will go toward academics and student services.

Managing SUNY’s resources is critical as the agency has lost $1.4 billion in funding during the last four years, Zimpher said.

In addition, Zimpher proposed a competitive grant that would take 5 percent of SUNY’s overall budget and distribute it to campuses that achieve certain goals in number of students who graduate and those who increase diversity.

Also, Zimpher said by the summer of 2014, all universities will be using common software instead of the “hodgepodge” of networks currently in place.

Other initiatives are establishing an entrepreneur-in-residence program and intra-campus research initiatives. Also, she wants to expand SUNY’s distance learning program that allows people to take classes online.

Zimpher also said the number of students who have to take remedial classes has to be reduced. More than $70 million is spent annually on remedial classes.

“The state is spending more on remediating its high school students than it is in supporting eight entire college campuses,” she said.

Zimpher promised to continue partnerships with industry and said SUNY would try to create new programs that match up with the needs of local companies. She also vowed to work to raise the graduation rate at SUNY colleges.

“We must get down to business not just by setting goals but by measuring them and holding ourselves accountable for meeting them,” she said.

Schenectady County Community College President Quintin Bullock said he was pleased by Zimpher’s priorities. He said his school has already implemented transfer agreements with schools for various programs. He also supported the consolidation of information technology services at the different colleges so everyone is working from a common framework.

SCCC Board of Trustees Chairwoman Denise Murphy McGraw said parents have had to watch their finances in this economy and having credits more easily transfer from one school to another is helpful.

“You can’t expect them to pay for the same credits and same classes,” she said.

She was also pleased that Zimpher recognized the Smart Scholars Early College High School program, of which SCCC is a participant. The program allows high schoolers from low-income areas to begin earning college credit while still in high school. This program boosts the quality of the school district overall and also attracts interest from the business community, she said.

Hudson Valley Community College student Josh Hotaling of Valatie, who is vice president of the Student Senate, said he liked Zimpher’s ambitious plans and the fact that she especially mentioned the importance of community colleges. “I feel that sometimes we’re passed over a lot,” he said.

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