Merodie A. Hancock was formally inaugurated Thursday as the fourth president of Empire State College, the State University of New York school focused on nontraditional students.
About half the college’s 20,000 students study online, while the rest attend classes at 35 learning centers across the state and overseas. The college is headquartered in Saratoga Springs.
The college’s goal is to meet the academic as well as practical needs of adult students who may work, parent or be in the military, providing them with schedule flexibility and individualized study.
“We try to match students and their needs with our offerings,” Hancock said in an interview prior to the ceremony held at the Saratoga Hilton. “It’s a little like running 35 statewide colleges.”
Hancock succeeds Alan R. Davis, who left in 2012 for the presidency of a college in British Columbia. Hancock, 48, is the college’s first female president.
She joined the school last September, but Thursday was her formal inauguration in a traditional ceremony replete with bagpipes, flowing academic robes and laudatory speeches.
“Higher education is changing at an incredible rate and we must change with or preferably in front of it,” Hancock told the audience.
With faculty, students, alumni, staff and guests looking on, SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher bestowed a college presidential medallion on Hancock.
Hancock has focused her career on expanding access to higher education for nontraditional students.
“I love the Empire State College mission,” she said. “When this position came open, it seemed like an ideal match.”
Previously, Hancock was the vice president at Central Michigan University’s Global Campus, responsible for delivering academic programs at the university’s remote campuses, military and community college locations and its online programs.
“Her dedication and experience involving academic excellence with cutting-edge instructional technology is evident in all of her [former] positions,” said SUNY board Chairman H. Carl McCall.
He noted Hancock is already involved in Open SUNY, an effort to bring more state university resources online.
In an interview with the Gazette, Zimpher acknowledged the uniqueness of Empire State College compared with the traditional state university campuses.
Zimpher called Empire State a hybrid of traditional classroom and online education. “We are taking the campus to the student,” she said. “We have a lot of adult learners, a lot of working people.”
The college uses a format in which students can design an individualized degree program, working one-on-one with faculty mentors. The college has roughly 200 full-time faculty, as well as about 1,200 part-time professors.
“With its world-class degree offerings and flexible class schedule, Empire State College has become a top choice for nontraditional and adult students,” Zimpher said in remarks prepared for the ceremony. “As the college continues to build upon its excellent reputation and service, we are fortunate to have Merodie at the helm.”
Before Central Michigan University, Hancock held teaching and administrative positions at the University of Maryland and Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University.
She holds a doctorate in urban services and education administration from Old Dominion University in Virginia, an MBA from Claremont Graduate University in California and a bachelor’s in economics from Scripps College in California.
Empire State College was founded in 1971 to provide flexible study programs. James W. Hall served as president from the founding until 2000, followed by James B. Moore from 2000 to 2007 and Davis from 2008 to 2012. All three were in attendance.
Hancock said she was looking forward to the challenges of designing programs for nontraditional students and their faculty.
“You end up with a high-energy, incredibly intelligent individual who really wants to be here,” she said.
The Schenectady Pipe Band Ensemble and nearly 200 college faculty, staff and guests dressed in full academic regalia led Hancock, McCall, Zimpher and Empire State College Council Chairman James Lytle from a robing area at City Hall down Broadway to the Hilton for the ceremony.