2013 State of the University Address: College is Worth It
January 15, 2013
And so, without further ado – Trustees of the State University of New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo, Lieutenant Governor Bob Duffy, members of the New York State Legislature, Mayor Jennings, and our amazing SUNY family: campus presidents, students, faculty, staff, alumni, distinguished guests, and fellow New Yorkers: welcome to the 2013 State of the University Address!
Is it worth the time spent earning a degree – an average of four and a half years nationally? Is it worth the expense – a national average of over $15,000 at 4-year public institutions? Is it worth the personal debt many students carry – a national average of over $26,000? And are the credentials worth it, with almost 15 percent of adults aged 20-24 currently unemployed?
These are all fair questions to ask in today’s world, where globalization has flattened the economy and increased competition; where a national recession has forced hundreds of thousands to lose their jobs and seek new careers; where banking and housing crises have slowed economic growth.
There is no surprise that an investment as large as a college education has come under scrutiny. We have seen an unprecedented flattening of the innovation world, a world in which one can now secure funding for an idea online. There is also more knowledge and information available today than ever before. In fact, every two days, we create as much data as we did from the dawn of mankind to 2003—it’s incredible! And it’s all out there, on the internet, for all of us to see, to use, and make sense of. As some have argued, college is a passé method of learning; in this decade, students can simply Wikipedia and Google their way through life.
There are many who propagate this notion. There are those who enroll in boot camps to learn specific skills and stop there. And there is my personal favorite – foundations that will pay students to drop out of college altogether
And yet, there have never been so many high-profile calls to increase the number of college graduates in this country:
The answer is obvious. It’s because college is worth it. Because for every Steve Jobs or Bill Gates who invents the next big thing without completing college, there are thousands of failed attempts by others who try to do the same.
As entrepreneurial guru Vivek Wadha so eloquently put it:
“Students, you are probably not Mark Zuckerberg, so stay in school."
His point is this: while you may have the next game-changing idea in your field, without the educational foundation to bring your idea to life, you are no better off. Without the business knowledge to start a company, without the research experience to bring your hypothesis to life, or the writing skills to express your ideas, you are no better off than if you had no idea at all.
While Jobs, Gates, and Zuckerberg are the poster children for success without a college degree, consider the number of Fortune 500 CEOs who did complete college.
Not one to duck a debate, especially on the topic of education, I want to seize the moment today to publicly reject the notion that college may not be worth it. Investing in a low-cost, high-quality college education is simply the best investment anyone or any country can make for their citizens.
But to live up to this promise, higher education needs to step up. We have to do a better job of keeping costs down and providing our students with the knowledge and tools they need to be successful in college and career. And we need to remain focused on graduating competitive, employable students that meet state and national workforce demands.
The past few years have been tough on the economy, but there’s only one solution—we are going to have to educate ourselves out of this mess. We need to put more well-educated graduates into the world to create and innovate our way into the new economy. To do that, we need a comprehensive plan to get more students into college, graduating on time, and graduating ready for successful careers.
New York Times columnist Tom Friedman has been a big advocate for this kind of massive change. He argues that for America to reclaim its place as the number one educator, number one innovator, and number one job creator, we have to get our collective act together. He writes:
"If only—if only—we would come together on a national strategy to enhance and expand all our natural advantages; more immigration, more post-secondary education, better infrastructure, more government research, smart incentives for spurring millions of start-ups…Nobody could touch us. We’re that close."
Well, here’s the good news, SUNY has its collective act together. 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 roadmap that allows everyone the opportunity to achieve career success.
Looking at this cradle to career education roadmap, from the moment a child is born till entering the workforce after graduating college, SUNY is involved every step of the way. But it’s this third leg where our work really takes shape.
And that’s how I want to approach today’s discussion; to tell you how SUNY is educating more students – by increasing access. How we are educating better – by refocusing our resources on quality and seeing students through to completion. And how we are educating together – cultivating partnerships at every phase of the education spectrum, from pre-school to elementary, middle and high school, to when students reach SUNY, and with employers and businesses to ensure success after SUNY.
Simply moving students through the pipeline is not what SUNY is all about. Instead, we strive to see our students through graduation and into career. And that’s what it means to be committed to these goals:
In 2013, we will take our cradle to career commitment even further, bringing the total number of sites to at least six and scaling up this work with the creation of the SUNY Cradle to Career Alliance, which will offer technical and professional support services across all C2C sites in New York.
But whether there is a cradle to career network or not, our commitment to the education pipeline holds steady for every community in New York.
In fact, that couldn’t be any more true than today. Minority enrollment of our first-time, full-time freshmen is now at 29 percent – an all time high, and is the result of a 44 percent increase in access to SUNY in the last 5 years. And, just this past year, SUNY received the Higher Education Excellence in Diversity award from Insight Magazine, which honors U.S. colleges and universities that demonstrate an outstanding commitment to diversity and inclusion.
While our work to improve access and college-readiness is growing, we must realize that this kind of seismic shift in education does not happen overnight. But we have to double down on the current student population – while waiting for new reforms in access that will eventually touch all students.
That’s why right now we have to deal with this lingering juggernaut called remediation. In 2012, we completed a comprehensive report in partnership with CUNY, and reviewed our own best practices in remediation and developmental education alongside our P-12 partners. This year, SUNY will adapt existing assessments to create an 11th grade college readiness exam to help students determine if they are on track for college.
This assessment will be a way for students, parents, teachers, and guidance counselors to spot the need for remediation while the student is still in high school, decreasing the need for the costly remedial education that currently takes place in college. This diagnostic could also be used to steer students towards particular fields of study that match their talents, reducing the number of undecided majors and shortening their time to degree.
While we know that the eventual redesign of the Regents Exam could include such diagnostic tools, SUNY plans to pilot our own assessment instrument and test its effectiveness in our 23 Smart Scholars Early College High Schools this fall. These schools have been leaders in preparing traditionally under-represented and under-prepared first generation, low-income students for rigorous instruction in high school and college. Today, we can boast that 98 percent of our 5,000 students served by early college are on track to graduate.
2012 also saw the launch of five regional STEM hubs aligned with the State’s Regional Economic Development Councils. These hubs raise awareness about the demand for STEM graduates and with business and industry partners, help us design curriculum and provide placement for students in internships and graduates in jobs. This year, we will help launch the remaining five regional hubs and expand our STEM outreach through a collaborative project with the New York Academy of Sciences, providing STEM tutoring and mentorship to middle school students around the state.
SUNY is also delivering on its promise to lead the way for improved teacher preparation for the next generation of educators, since we prepare over 5,000 teachers a year. Teaching is a practice-based profession, like nursing and medicine. It requires on-campus simulation laboratories, where practice is tested and critiqued like what we do for airline pilots and engineers. We need better prepared clinicians in education like the interns and residents we train in health care. To this end, SUNY has launched the Teacher Education Network and will help pilot three Centers of Pedagogy this fall. The first will be located in Fredonia.
Once students are enrolled at any of SUNY’s 64 campuses, our focus shifts to degree completion.
The average SUNY student now takes just 4.4 years to earn a bachelor’s degree. In fact, we rank 4th in the nation amongst public institutions for students graduating within 4 years – after only smaller states like Delaware, Virginia, and New Hampshire. But there is always room for improvement, and we will strive to prepare more of our students in four years or less.
One way we will accomplish this goal is with the continued expansion of online course offerings and a full scale-up of Open SUNY.
And while we’re on the topic of the internet, we are going to put our most esteemed faculty to work on expanding our online portfolio. This year, members of the SUNY Distinguished Academy, established by the Board of Trustees in 2012, will begin uploading their best lectures in a massive open online course format; in short, SUNY Distinguished Faculty will cut loose to engage in this brave, new MOOC world!
In recent years, SUNY has become one of the most navigable systems of public higher education.
In 2012, we began the process of installing a system-wide electronic database to help advisers counsel students on degree and transfer options within SUNY, outlining for them the most efficient and advantageous pathways to on-time degree completion. This year we’re implementing DegreeWorks, a software program that advisors and students can use to make sure the right courses are selected and completed.
That’s why we’re also implementing a process called “reverse transfer.” If a SUNY student leaves one of our 30 community colleges for one of our four-year colleges before receiving their two-year degree, and goes ahead to complete requirements for the two-year degree at their new home campus, we will now be able to reconnect them with their community college. The associate degree gets awarded, the campus gets rewarded, and it’s all a part of what we call the SUNY success metric.
This year we will further this commitment by establishing SUNY Complete, a “win-win” program, parallel to a nationwide effort, that will help students who left a two-year program with 60 or more credits return and complete the remaining credits toward their associate’s degree.
We are also helping our students to translate real world experience – such as military service or time in the workplace – into college credit. Our program, which is under development at Empire State College, is called SUNY REAL. It will meet the learner where he or she is, and through a prior learning assessment by highly qualified faculty experts, will dramatically diminish the need for the repeat courses or costly skills training they already have. It is being designed for scale up throughout SUNY, and will be up and running on every campus by the end of this year.
One last point of pride on the topic of completion. When I stood here last January, I promised that general education courses throughout SUNY would be 100 percent transferable within our system by the end of 2014. That is, with completion of the 60 hour AA/AS degree, students transfer as a bonafide junior. Today, I am happy to report that we have the policy and process in place – two years ahead of schedule.
To do this, we’ve had to become leaner, stronger, and more resourceful in delivering a high caliber, student-centered model of education. We’ve taken a hard look at the way we do business at SUNY; we’ve cut costs, delivered more return on the State’s investment, and improved student outcomes.
We’ve also committed ourselves to serve as New York’s economic engine, and our campuses have pledged to improve the quality of life for each of the communities they serve.
Since the launch of our strategic plan in 2010, we have been committed to maintaining A Competitive SUNY, and by extension, A Competitive New York. Today, we’re adding A Competitive Graduate to that equation.
A Competitive SUNY
To remain competitive as a system, SUNY continues to lead a disciplined way of life, eliminating duplicative operations and administrative overhead by finding every opportunity to share services. The case for efficiency – long in the making – is unequivocal.
A year ago, we told you we would save $100 million over the next three years, and I am thrilled to announce that we have already met 20 percent of that goal, netting $20 million in savings across the system in the first year. These savings will be reinvested in expanding academic and student services on our campuses, adding 200 faculty positions, increased offerings of courses required for degree completion, and a continual reduction in time to degree.
In the coming year, Plattsburgh and Clinton will explore a shared food service contract; Delhi and Cobleskill will centralize employee recruitment and background checks; campuses across the state will examine how they can share printing services; and Cortland, Delhi, TC3, and UB have partnered to form the STAR-NY Consortium to provide online tutoring to their students.
A large share of savings will be generated by summer 2014, when we implement a number of our common shared service data systems across SUNY. And with the help of management consulting firm McKinsey, which is already working with the state to identify shared operational efficiencies, we will realize even more of these savings across the system.
Yet another critical component of keeping SUNY competitive is our robust research portfolio. This past year, SUNY and its strategic partner, the SUNY Research Foundation, supported or created nearly 2,300 new companies through its incubators, tech transfer offices, and in partnership with SUNY’s Small Business Development Centers.
The RF has made one additional discovery – it has found a way to reinvent itself. Under the new leadership of Dr. Tim Killeen, a world-class scholar and former assistant director at the National Science Foundation, the New RF has implemented an extensive control environment to safeguard the nearly $1 billion in SUNY research activity that it processes annually. It has also established the SUNY Research Council, a group of prominent national experts to help carve a pathway for more aggressive public and private grant acquisition, more integrated and collaborative research consortia, and more investigative partnerships with business and industry.
In his State of the State Address, Governor Cuomo emphasizes the importance of bringing university-generated discoveries to the marketplace, through tech transfer. With both New York and SUNY vastly underperforming in this regard, together we can turn it around.
To this end, Dr. Killeen will represent SUNY as one of three organizing members of the Innovation New York Network. This network will build collaborations between academics, venture capitalists, and business leaders to expedite the tech transfer process and put New York on an ambitious pathway to more innovations, increased entrepreneurship, and as the Governor says, a “New New York.”
SUNY’s research track record is clear. We invented the MRI in 1971, the software that advanced bar code scanning was developed here, and as we speak groundbreaking work in nanotechnology is happening across the system – the spirit of innovation continues. Just this year, researchers at Upstate Medical University discovered a new way to treat Type 2 Diabetes by regulating weight loss with hormones, and a team from the College of Optometry developed contact lenses that help change the way the eye develops – an innovation that has the potential to stop nearsightedness all together.
Marketable, life-changing research.
Training enough doctors and nurses for New York State is just the beginning. Over the next year, SUNY is implementing strategic enrollment management across the board. That means we’re going to match our program offerings with New York labor statistics, so supply meets demand. By ensuring that students are able to choose rewarding, employable careers that are in high demand across the state, we ensure that our SUNY grads stay right here to live and work in New York.
While filling jobs is a critical task, creating them is just as important. Our entrepreneurial spirit must keep pace with the changing economic landscape. That is why campuses across the state have established incubators to birth new ideas, new businesses, and new opportunities to grow and prosper in a collaborative, supportive environment on and around our campuses. One of many examples is the Agri-Business Center and Nelson Farms food processing center at Morrisville State College.
Because of the success of these incubators, we are committing that by 2015, SUNY will establish at least one incubator in each of the Governor’s 10 REDCs.
And to bring together the energy of research, entrepreneurism, and tech transfer, we look forward to creating a number of SUNY Innovation Hubs. These are new physical facilities located either on one of our campuses or in the surrounding community, where faculty, undergraduate and graduate students, and entrepreneurs from the private sector have the opportunity to co-invent new knowledge and applications, taking co-imagined bright ideas to the state, national, and global marketplace.
In Buffalo, the new Buffalo-Niagara Downtown Medical Campus is set to be epicenter of a regional team consisting of SUNY, private colleges, medical centers, financial institutions, and business and industry to establish Western New York as a premier destination for high quality healthcare.
And we see this kind of success in Albany, with UAlbany’s Nano College, creating a similar hub for nanoscale science and chip fabrication in the Capital Region.
And we agree – we also want to see what’s happening in Buffalo, in Albany, and across New York, replicated across the nation.
This year we will pilot an Entrepreneur-in-Residence program at each of our Regional Tech Transfer Hubs, to help identify the milestones necessary to move a discovery-based idea to market. Moreover, this program will ensure that these startups are well positioned to attract outside capital and managerial talent that will allow it to thrive locally.
The capital gained through the NYSUNY 2020 bill championed by Governor Cuomo and the State Legislature is helping us get started. Our University centers have been able to build the necessary infrastructure for success. Whether it’s Buffalo’s medical campus; Stony Brook’s research facility for cancer, Alzheimer’s, and autism; Binghamton’s smart-energy center, or UAlbany’s emerging technologies facility; SUNY is uniquely positioned around these hubs, a position only enhanced by the two subsequent rounds of NYSUNY 2020 launched by the Governor in 2012, and just last week.
NYSUNY 2020 is made possible through a partnership with our SUNY Construction Fund, which celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. Led by Bob Haelen and his staff, the Construction Fund has literally built SUNY from the ground up and I thank them for 50 outstanding years of service excellence.
And speaking of infrastructure, we must take a moment to recognize the ingenuity and compassion shown by the entire SUNY family as New York coped with the prolific blow dealt by Superstorm Sandy. We stood together with our state leaders and fellow New Yorkers through and in the aftermath of the storm. In an effort led by SUNY’s Office of Capital Facilities, our campuses served as shelter and staging areas, our students, staff, and police officers as volunteers, and even now, our faculty continues to contribute expertise to the Governor’s Recovery Commissions, looking at how we mitigate the effects of major future environmental shifts.
And so here’s the kicker – and how we produce graduates a cut above the rest. Our work to provide access to college, to help students complete their degrees, and to put them in a position to succeed, comes to life with each graduating class. And at the end of the day, nothing we do is more important than ensuring that each and every SUNY student leaves campus with a competitive edge.
For aspiring doctors, this might mean clinical rounds in a teaching hospital; for aspiring architects this may mean a paid co-op experience with a local design business; for an aspiring scientist, this may mean working beside internationally-renown faculty in a lab; or for the future president of the United Way, it may mean participating in a service-learning project with a local community group.
These real-world experiences, or what is called experiential education, enable students to develop the skills that employers are looking for, often right alongside their future colleagues. Ninety-five percent of students who participate in co-op nationally find jobs immediately upon graduation. They also put students in contact with people who will pick up where SUNY leaves off and help mentor graduates as new employees to better succeed in their chosen careers.
From SUNY Works, which brings cooperative education and internships to an expanded list of programs; and now SUNY Serves, which includes service-learning, volunteerism, and clinical placements; and furthermore to SUNY Discovers, encompassing student research opportunities, entrepreneurial ventures, and field study placements – our capacity for experiential education will know no bounds.
And we are also globalizing the SUNY experience, expanding opportunity for students to visit other countries and learn more about diverse cultures. Through SUNY Global Access, we will focus on fostering the global mobility of students and scholars, through both physical travel and virtual participation.
And we know all too well that the success of our graduates – and their willingness to live and work in New York – depends on their ability to maintain a high quality of life. The average indebtedness of a SUNY graduate is $22,575, below the national average of $26,600. We are proud that students borrow less to attend our campuses, but we can’t stop there. We want to encourage students to make sound financial decisions by borrowing only what they need, and therefore ultimately reducing a SUNY student’s debt burden.
That is why – in partnership with the White House – we have created the SUNY Smart Track program to adopt the federal Financial Aid Shopping Sheet, expand our Student Loan Service Center, engage early with high risk students as defined by the U.S. Department of Education, and provide online resources such as a net price calculator, chats with financial aid experts, and financial literacy materials.
SUNY graduates occupy a special place in the SUNY family – they have experienced everything SUNY has to offer and have made their way into the world, forged new paths in their fields and started companies, solved social problems, helped find cures to fatal diseases, and been elected to public office. They are one of our greatest assets, and we will do more in the coming year to reconnect with our alumni such as showcasing successful alumni on our website and creating a system-wide Distinguished Alumni Award.
We know we have a lot of work to do to bring this kind of success to scale, whether it’s for SUNY, New York, or our graduates. The promises I am about to make have a lot in common: they all bring together our commitment to access, completion, and success; they all require more work on our part; and they all carry a 3 or 5 year stretch goal, because the limit of what we can accomplish is only governed by the limit of our aspirations. Let’s talk about action…
First, SUNY is turning online education on its head. We’ll build out our capacity for online learning, meaning all online courses will be available across the system, using a universal set of tools and platforms, including a financial aid consortium that will allow students to receive support regardless of where they earn their credits.
And once we have our 64 campuses and over 34,000 faculty using the same platform to teach online, we’ll take this capacity to scale by officially launching Open SUNY in 2014.
No institution in America – not even the for-profits – will be able to match the number of offerings and the quality of instruction. We’ll start by adding 10 online bachelor’s degree programs that meet high-need career demands – piloting three this fall. We’ll offer a credit assessment of prior learning experiences and credit validation for online offerings from high profile, accredited institutions. And not only are we going to do it best – we’re going to do it big. In 3 years, we will enroll 100,000 degree-seeking students in Open SUNY, making us the largest public online provider of education in the nation.
Second, while we’re on the concept of 3 years, we are committing to the idea that students should have the choice to graduate in 3 years. We believe that by 2015, 25 percent of SUNY students will be able to do this, literally putting them on a “Smart Track.” This 3 year degree is the newest component of the SUNY Smart Track campaign – our commitment to reducing student debt. Every campus will adopt this program by next year, including using the newly developed Financial Aid Award Letter based on President Obama’s Financial Aid Shopping Sheet. In fact, we’re so confident in these programs’ abilities to affect change that we will commit today that SUNY’s student loan default rate will decrease by at least 5 percent over the next 5 years.
Thirdly, experiential education counts. SUNY Works, SUNY Serves, SUNY Discovers. We will work to ensure that every student has the opportunity to take part in one of the experiences outlined in our experiential education framework – even if they are enrolled online. And, whether a student had a co-op experience, volunteered regularly at a local non-profit, or worked with a professor to start a new business, the new SUNY Plus program being developed this year will ensure that these experiences – which we know to be critical to a college student’s education – will be recorded on an extracurricular transcript and designated on their diploma.
Fourth, as of today, we are committing that by 2015, a SUNY Innovation Hub combining next generation research, academic and workforce training, and the major needs of the community, will be developed in partnership with the state’s REDCs for cities across New York. This will create some of the experiential education opportunities we need for our students, and connect all of the relevant research and development entities in these communities toward a common vision. We simply cannot continue to innovate in a vacuum; we need partners and dedicated space, and public and private investment capital to make the innovation ecosystem a reality – and by aligning with the Governor’s Innovation Hotspot initiative, we now have a clear plan to achieve this goal.
And finally, every campus is on board for implementing a common data system by 2014. This means a uniform platform to gather all kinds of data, from student enrollment to learning outcomes. By doing this, SUNY will build the biggest, baddest, Excel spreadsheet of all time. 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 student success. Mobility, time to degree, success metrics. 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. SUNY will truly create the smarter university.
And so, with all of that, I ask you to revisit the original question: Is College Worth It? I think you can see why SUNY knows the answer is a resounding YES!
From our commitment to access and improving the education pipeline for all students, to our work in completion and ensuring our graduates are able to transfer without boundaries or inhibitions, and our commitment to graduating the most work-savvy, cutting-edge students we can, SUNY has truly put this question to rest.
I can stand here and make these promises to you today because I know that in every corner of New York State, and within 30 miles of every New Yorker, there is a president of a SUNY campus who has SUNY’s back. Who, together with other community leaders and their boards and councils, is going to make these promises a reality for all of New York.
So if you’re still wondering what tomorrow’s headline reads, here it is: SUNY unveils roadmap for student success.
Imagine if everything we talked about today, everything SUNY is doing—our progress, this unprecedented level of collaboration—could be replicated in every state across America. Imagine if all states could then work together to leverage their collective investment on the way education is delivered nationally.
If cradle to career networks existed in every community.
If our reliance on remedial education were eliminated.
If school districts and universities leveraged every opportunity for shared services.
If every college student participated in an experiential opportunity with an employer in their field.
If entrepreneurs across America had access to funds and incubators to commercialize their best ideas.
If credit-bearing online courses brought down the national average for time-to-degree.
Clearly, SUNY aspires to be that national model for how we can educate our way into the future.
Taking a little poetic license with Tom Friedman’s call to action:
If only—if only—we would come together in New York and across the country to enhance and expand all our natural advantages: increased access, greater completion, and universal success—nobody could touch us. We’re that close.
We. Are. That. Close.