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UAlbany’s new leader looks to grad school, online programs for growth

UAlbany’s new leader looks to grad school, online programs for growth

Study to determine optimal size for university
UAlbany’s new leader looks to grad school, online programs for growth
Rodriguez speaks from his office at UAlbany on Wednesday.
Photographer: Zachary Matson/Daily Gazette Reporter

Havidan Rodríguez, the University at Albany's new president, sees graduate programs, online education and the whole world as opportunities of growth for the state's flagship public university.

In his first seven months on the job, Rodriquez has met with students, staff, and community members as the college finalized a new strategic plan. He is set to be formally inaugurated Friday as the university’s 20th president.

While the inauguration won’t imbue Rodríguez with any new authority, it will give him a chance to lay out his vision for the university.

“Ten years from now, students will be addressing questions that we haven’t even been able to ask today -- addressing them with technology that currently does not exist,” he said Wednesday. “These things are always evolving, and so we as institutions of higher education need to pay careful attention to what are those changes?”

Graduate programs, including online graduate degrees, will likely be a major driver of student growth in coming years, Rodríguez said. He highlighted the university’s emergency preparedness and cybersecurity program – considered the first of its kind in the country – as ripe for expanding into graduate degrees. The school is also awaiting final state approval to roll out master’s and doctorate programs in electrical and computer engineering for the fall 2019 semester.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions about continuing to build graduate enrollment at the university,” he said, adding that he thinks the school could grow its graduate school enrollment from about 25 percent to 30 percent of the student body.

The university plans to restructure how graduate programs are organized, establishing a central graduate school – rather than a network of graduate programs disparately connected across several academic departments.

And some of those graduate programs won’t just be for students who hunker down at the campus’ libraries; they'll be open to students around the world who will access them via the internet.

“We want to build programs that are in high demand and high need, we want to build programs that meet the highest standards of academic excellence, but also provide access through online education,” Rodríguez said.

The new president said the university will be deliberative as it moves toward establishing new online programs, ensuring new degrees meet national standards for online programs. He said that, at his last job, he played a key role in developing fully online programs, signing off on some while rejecting those that weren’t up to par.

“We would like to have more degree programs, but not willy-nilly,” he said. “This is not developing online programs for the sake of developing online programs. It’s developing online programs that serve a critical need and are based on the strengths of our faculty and the strength of our institution.”

He also pointed out that, while online courses are available to people all over the world, the vast majority of students a university can expect to actually sign up for those programs live within to the university campus. 

Meanwhile, Rodríguez has tasked a team with studying the college’s optimum size, analyzing how much growth in student enrollment the school can accommodate and what it would need to do to adjust to different enrollment levels. The team will evaluate the campus’ facilities, residence halls, classroom space, services provided to students and staffing levels.

“What is the optimum size for the University at Albany?” he said of the group’s charge. “I don’t know what the actual numbers will be, but there’s got to be some metrics that we say: Based on these variables, this is really the optimum size for the university … and we will have to adjust accordingly.”

He acknowledged that the demographics of the Northeast will not spur a boom in high school graduates looking for college programs in the coming years and said the school needs to shift to better meet the needs of older, so-called non-traditional students, who need greater flexibility as they pursue degrees.

“We are going to have to change the models in which we recruit students, because there are a lot of people over the age of 25, 30, 35, 40 who are wanting to pursue higher levels of education,” he said. “But they have families, full-time responsibilities… so we have to rethink how we recruit these students and the type of programs we provide, so they are accessible.”

Last week, university officials unveiled a new strategic plan that focuses on five priorities: student success, research, diversity and inclusion, internationalization and engagement in service. Part of that plan is to continue to expand the school’s international reach and ambitions.

“What are the things that are changing in the outside world? What are the things that have local, regional impacts but with global implications?” he said. “I think we need to think more systematically about those types of programs.”

But at its core, the university is about students and their success, Rodríguez said.

“The University at Albany is an engine of opportunity,” a new mission statement proclaims.

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