SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher delivered her third annual State of the University Address on Jan. 15, asserting that even in difficult times there is no question that “college is worth it.” Zimpher outlined a course-of-action plan for the next five years, which included a number of new SUNY-wide initiatives and goals. She expressed a commitment to keeping low costs and focusing on giving students a competitive edge in the state and national workforce. Moreover, she broke down the three categories on which SUNY is focusing: expanded access, increased completion and assured life and career success.
“Well, here’s the good news: SUNY has its collective act together,” Zimpher said. “The even better news is that SUNY has a set of breakthrough strategies that will increase access and completion by putting forward an overarching, comprehensive road map that allows everyone the opportunity to achieve career success.”
That road map consists of the launch of Open SUNY in 2014, which will feature 10 online bachelor degree programs. The program will make courses available to all students by using a system-wide financial aid consortium and online teaching platform.
According to Zimpher, Open SUNY will reach 100,000 students within three years, which will make it the largest online education program of any public institution in the nation.
Further, the SUNY Smart Track Campaign, SUNY’s initiative to decrease student loan debt, will be implemented on all campuses by 2014. By using the new financial aid award letter based on President Barack Obama’s financial aid shopping sheet, Zimpher asserts that by 2015, 25 percent of SUNY students will be able to graduate in three years, in addition to a five percent decrease in the student loan default rate over the next five years.
Zimpher also plans to develop a SUNY Plus Diploma Designation, which will allow for students who participate in experiential learning, whether that be a co-op program, volunteer experience or independent research, to have an additional designation on their diploma.
The last facet of the SUNY action plan is a common data system to be implemented by 2014, which will serve as the foundation for performance-based funding.
“But our point here isn’t just to be the biggest. The point of creating this system is to make data-driven decisions around all the important factors that lead to the students successes,” Zimpher said. “You’ve surely heard of cities and governments doing this, and we want to do the same - analyze data to make better decisions, proactively resolve problems before they occur, and coordinate resources to operate as efficiently as possible.”
According to Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol Long, while the intentions are good, the action plan may not serve individual institutions, like Geneseo, as well as one might hope.
“There is nothing wrong with the goals she’s reaching for, which is to have more quality educated citizens to help the state of New York and to build its economy,” Long said. “I support the general direction in which she wants to head in, it would result in good things for everybody. It’s the subtext of it that I have more trouble with.”
According to Long, the initiatives tend to push in a direction of “interchangeability and uniformity,” and while that accomplished an emphasis on the public good of education, it understates the value in a comprehensive liberal arts education.
“If you want a good, deep liberal arts education, you’re not necessarily going to worry about, ‘OK get them out in three years, get a job, make sure they don’t have any debt’,” she said. “I think the rhetoric and metrics that they are using make us a little invisible at times and overlook very fine contributions that the college and our students make to SUNY, the state, the nation and the world.”