Streamlining operations, allowing students to transfer credits among SUNY schools and rewarding campuses based on performance are all part of the vision laid out Wednesday by SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher in her first State of the University address.
“Together we will move SUNY from great to premier,” Zimpher said before more than 200 education officials in the Egg at Empire State Plaza.
The system’s 64 campuses need to work collaboratively to accomplish this mission, Zimpher said. Noting that SUNY this past year had already made a change to allow students to transfer all general education credits, she would allow them to transfer credits from up to five classes within their major as well. Another goal is expanding online course offerings so more students have access to SUNY courses.
Because of the state’s fiscal challenges, Zimpher said it is essential that SUNY develop other sources of revenue. She urged state legislators to ease restrictions on leasing of university-owned property so SUNY can more easily form public-private partnerships with businesses. The university must also tap the resources of its 3 million graduates and double its private fund-raising efforts.
Zimpher also aims to partner with local high schools to increase low graduation rates. Of 100 New York students entering ninth-grade, only 19 end up completing at least an associate’s degree program within two years, according to Zimpher.
She also wants to increase college attendance and graduation, especially among low-income and minority students. For every 1 percent increase in the state’s college graduation rate, Zimpher said an additional $17.5 million would be generated for New Yorkers, according to a report from CEOs for Cities.
Zimpher proposed streamlining and sharing services at 29 state-operated campuses, without mentioning specifics. Also, beginning in fiscal year 2012, SUNY will distribute state funding among campuses based on performance in areas like research awards obtained, student course completion, diversity of students and faculty and degree programs that address workforce needs.
Last year, SUNY was not successful in getting the Legislature to ease restrictions of leasing of property. It also did not achieve another goal of allowing specific campuses to set different tuition rates. Regarding tuition, all Zimpher called for in her speech was developing a five-year tuition plan beginning in the 2012 academic year.
Zimpher pointed out that every $1 million invested in SUNY creates about 20 jobs. The university system has the capacity to create about 20,000 construction industry jobs and another 20,000 spin-off jobs through partnerships.
“SUNY — with 64 campuses that stretch across the state — is the most qualified public institution to navigate the knowledge economy and reimagine the role of public higher education in our state’s economic development,” she aid in a prepared statement.
Zimpher also promised openness and transparency in SUNY. “The people of the state of New York have a right to know what is occurring with their state university,” she said.
This was the first State of SUNY address given in a while, if ever, according to SUNY officials. In his remarks before Zimpher, SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman Carl Hayden pointed out that SUNY has faced $670 million worth of cuts in its operating budget during the last three years.
“There is a high likelihood that more cuts are on the way,” he said. “We are approaching a tipping point, a place at which this great public institution may very well be in peril. I know there is an emerging sensitivity to not only the plight of the state university but the potential and power of the state university.”
During his state of the state last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo mentioned a desire to partner with higher education institutions to stimulate the state’s economy. SUNY will be involved in the governor’s 10 regional economic development councils.
Hayden echoed the same theme that the public colleges are key to New York’s revitalization. “What we hope is not lost on anyone is the fact that SUNY is a major part of any solution to the economic distress of this state. What we know for sure is the future belongs to those states and those nations that best create, nurture and commercialize intellectual capital,” he said.
Zimpher’s introduction was somewhat unusual as a video of students from various SUNY campuses bounced a blue ball with the SUNY logo as singer Taio Cruz’s “Dynamite” song played on a video screen.
The montage concluded with Zimpher catching the ball, saying “The Power of SUNY. It’s catching on.”
“Governor. SUNY is up to the challenge and we are well positioned to accomplishing your goal,” Zimpher said.
Zimpher received high marks for her speech. Assemblyman Jack McEneny, D-Albany, said he liked the idea of partnerships and streamlining government bureaucracy and allowing campuses more freedom from regulations to address individual problems. “I think the devil will be in the details,” he said.
However for large-scale projects, like the approximately $800 million invested in the University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, the Legislature should be involved in decision making to form public-private partnerships. “I think I would prefer to keep some oversight,” he said.
He also wanted to make sure that tuition would not exceed the maximum student Tuition Assistance Program grant. That would be a nonstarter.
Denise Murphy McGraw, chairwoman of the Schenectady County Community College Board of Trustees, said she was pleased to see how much Zimpher’s vision is in sync with the college’s own master plan completed last year. “So many of her key messages are our key messages — looking at economic development and employee readiness and streamlining operations and partnering with institutions and other businesses,” she said.
SCCC has been partnering with companies such as GE, which helped develop its storage battery certificate curriculum in conjunction with its proposal to build a new $100 million battery plant.
Empire State College President Alan Davis also liked Zimpher’s message of partnerships. The college has a partnership with Hudson River Community Credit Union on programs for continuing education designed for busy working adults.
Another key is online learning and Empire State College is one of the biggest online education institutions in the state, according to Davis. Sometimes students take courses both online and in person. It also has agreements with community colleges allowing students to transfer credits to Empire State College.
“Our whole approach is to break down any of the barriers that may constrict someone in continuing their education,” he said.
With the competitive grant program, Zimpher is challenging SUNY to do its job better and more efficiently, Davis said. Having the campuses work together is essential.
“It’s very clear that in a global knowledge economy we live in you have to have a well-educated workforce that has access to lifelong learning. I think SUNY collectively as a whole can do that better than each campus trying to reinvent the wheel,” he said.