SUNY Chancellor announces plans for statewide applied learning requirement

Chancellor of the State University of New York Nancy L. Zimpher is pushing a statewide initiative to include “applied learning” as a graduation requirement. This idea was announced during the 2015 State of the University address in January. It is currently in the process of being approved by SUNY Committees.

“Because applied learning has proven so effective and important in student success, this year we unequivocally support legislation that will mandate applied learning as a graduation requirement for every SUNY student,” Zimpher said.

According to interim President Carol Long, the initiative allows for the individual colleges and universities to make their own requirements around SUNY’s guidelines.

“The key to this really is that SUNY has defined applied learning very broadly,” Long said. “They include service learning, they include volunteerism and they include undergraduate research. So it’s something beyond the classroom that engages students with practical experience of some sort.”

Long noted that due to the intentional vagueness of SUNY’s plan, Geneseo should be able to tailor programs that are already in place to fit the requirements, making it an easier transition for the college.

“I don’t believe that it will represent a huge shift in the experience of students,” she said. “It might encourage a few more opportunities to be created and it might encourage a few more students to engage in them.”

One such program is Bringing Theory to Practice. According to its website, the program “encourages colleges and universities to reassert their core purposes as educational institutions not only to advance learning and discovery, but to advance the potential and well-being of each individual student.” Geneseo is one of 45 universities to participate in the program.

“We’ve worked with them for a long time and that develops practical learning, applied learning in a variety of ways,” Long said.

Another program that is offered through the school is The Washington Center Internship Program. Although Long acknowledged that this can be expensive, this program of fers a full semester’s worth of credits in addition to a three-credit class.

One obstacle that many students could face is that one must pay for the internship credits. “There’s lots of muddy territory about internships,” Long said. “There’s been conversation about businesses just using unpaid interns as a way to get cheap labor. We would want any internship experience to be a high-quality internship experience.”

Luckily for students, Long explained that Geneseo’s applied learning requirement will include more than just internship opportunities. These could include undergraduate research, service learning and other things outside of the classroom. Long noted that Geneseo could model a program that has worked at the University of Iowa.

“There’s a program at the University of Iowa called Iowa [Guided Reflection of Work],” she said. “What they did was work with all the supervisors who have student employees on campus—everything from grounds to the president’s office—and … have them be more intentional in talking with their student employees about the work experience and how that translates into various kinds of life and work skills.”

SUNY will likely introduce this requirement gradually. This should allow students a full four years to get applied learning experience and will likely not directly affect current students.