Chancellor at 2016 SoU - 3/4 front shot
2016 State of the University Address

2016 State of the University Address

Opening Remarks: Chairman H. Carl McCall
Welcoming Remarks: Lieutenant Governor Hochul
Welcoming Remarks: Student Assembly President Thomas Mastro
2016 Feature Video | Welcome to New York - Taylor Swift

I. Introduction

Wow! Wasn’t that something? I think that’s our best one yet! And now you know from every angle why this system is so amazing.

Good morning, and welcome!

Thank you, Tom Mastro, for that introduction, and for your enthusiasm for and dedication to SUNY. You make a fantastic Student Assembly president.

A big thank you to Lieutenant Governor Hochul for joining us, for your support, and for representing Governor Cuomo, who we know is busy working on his own speech right now. It’s an honor to have you here.

I also want to thank all of our elected officials and community partners. I am thrilled that each and every one of you is here to show your support for SUNY.

As always, thank you to our chairman, Carl McCall, for your leadership, your vision, and your deep care for SUNY and public higher education.

And I want to thank everyone, all of you, for coming this morning—for filling this theater and giving us a thousand ears and eyes to take in this—our sixth report on the State of our University.   

II. Rating the Effectiveness of Systemness

As many of you know, a few years ago, I stood on this stage and introduced a new word—one that you’ve heard many times since. Systemness.

Last year a journalist asked me—on a scale of 1 to 10—how I thought our systemness approach was doing. He wanted me to rate its effectiveness, its success at SUNY.

That might sound like a big, on-the-spot question, but it was actually an easy one. He asked me off the record—and I’m beyond ready to go on the record today.

Right now, in 2016, I give systemness a 10. Across the board, a 10.   

Not only is it a 10 because it’s effective—it’s necessary.

Partnerships, working together toward shared goals with shared vision—this is the only way to ensure that public higher education in the 21st century is doing its job.

That we are truly preparing students for work and for life. That we’re making sure they finish school with the right skills and knowledge. That they’re equipped to be critical thinkers…and good decision makers…and creators and communicators. That they can be leaders.

III. Accomplishments through Systemness

Through the lens of systemness, consider what we’ve accomplished in the last seven years:

Seamless Transfer

Look at seamless transfer. Because of our system approach, seamless transfer is a matter of fact at SUNY.

We have more than 460,000 students—and 30,000 of them transfer between our campuses every year. 44 percent of our bachelor’s graduates started at one of our community colleges.

So with all this movement, we need to be sure that when students transfer they don’t lose time…or credit…or a single hard-earned dollar of what they’ve invested. Until we had this new transfer policy, we couldn’t ensure that.

So we worked together with our faculty to solve that problem. And today more than 166,000 students are enrolled in 54 transfer paths in a huge range of fields—from aerospace engineering to nursing to theatre. And maintain a systemwide database of 40,000 courses guaranteed to transfer. This is a groundbreaking step in helping more New Yorkers than ever before complete a college degree.

Degree Works

To help transfer students—and any SUNY student—stay on track, together we customized a degree-planning tool called Degree Works. We’re still refining it, but even as we do this, in just the last 8 months Degree Works has attracted a half million unique SUNY users, including students, parents, and advisors.

Smart Track

And together, campus and system staff created Smart Track. With this tool, students can calculate the cost of their education to the dollar even before they apply to SUNY. And when they’re enrolled at SUNY they get targeted support from their campus that could make all the difference in finishing their degree.

Because of our affordability and Smart Track together, SUNY sees lower student loan default rates than our national counterparts.

With these results, Smart Track has become the national standard for the creation of tools and interventions like this. We’ve been touted by the White House and the Education Department as the go-to model to copy, as the best.


Through systemness, we created and launched Open SUNY—the world’s largest consortium for online learning. With 472 online programs and 20,000 course sections, we’re extending access to limitless numbers of people, anywhere in the world.

Since its launch in 2014, more than 230,000 students have enrolled in Open SUNY classes. They’re using it to speed time to degree and fit classes into busy schedules. Many are using it to complete multiple majors at once.

We have this solid infrastructure to build on, to do even more.

So we’re taking it to the next level—to Open SUNY 2.0.

Yes, we’re still focused on students working toward a degree. But now we’re extending our reach to engage anyone interested in taking a course or two for professional development or personal enrichment. We’ll use it to build up our capability to offer stackable credentials.

Open SUNY 2.0 will be our Optimized Personal Education Network.

Cradle to Career

And then there’s our cradle-to-career work.

Seven years ago, SUNY wasn’t actively building bridges between higher ed and K-12 to fix the broken education pipeline.

Now we’re committed, tenaciously, to strengthening the entire length of it through building cradle-to-career partnerships throughout the state.

Seven years ago, there were zero. Today SUNY is a cofounder and leader of 8 C2C sites, as well as more than 60 innovative Early College High School models that lift up thousands of students and schools in low-income neighborhoods and help them on the path to success.

Teacher Preparation

A critical part of the cradle-to-career effort is modernizing teacher preparation, and SUNY is laser focused on this.

Because you know what? Teaching is rocket science, and to treat it as anything less is a disservice to our students. Excellent teaching is the number one in-school factor for student success. And because SUNY trains 25 percent of New York’s teachers, we own this challenge.

Through our Master Teacher Program and TeachNY initiative, in partnership with the state, with Commissioner Mary Ellen Elia, and with expert input from our faculty, we are leading the charge in policy and practice reinvention to make sure New York is training and retaining the best teachers in the world.

Shared Services

And here’s another way to look at systemness: shared services.

In 2011, we committed to sharing services in our system and our regions, to saving money, and then taking that savings and putting it right back to support our students. Shared services is truly a matter of—and a measure of—operational excellence.

Within just a few years of sharing services in human resources, IT, and procurement, we exceeded our $100 million run rate, and continue to save. But we have only begun to scratch the surface.

Next month, for the first time, we will convene our Operational Excellence Team. Campus business officers and CIOs and system staff will work together to create more efficiencies and maximize savings so those dollars can be routed to student success.

Economic Driver

And how about our system’s impact on the economy?

From my first days at SUNY in 2009, it was clear that we had the potential to be New York’s most innovative economic driver. Just look at the map—we’re everywhere and we do everything.

We employ almost 90,000 people across the state. That’s direct employment and doesn’t include the hundreds of thousands of jobs created by the presence of campuses in our community.

At SUNY, for every $1 in state tax support, we generate a $5 impact—up to more than $17 billion a year.

In workforce development, our colleges are collaborating with businesses to expand and build our programs so that SUNY is preparing students—in a targeted way—to succeed in jobs in high-demand fields.

Hard skills and soft skills. Familiarity with technology…communications skills…creative thinking and problem solving. This is what businesses are telling us they need—and all of our campuses are working to meet those needs.

In brick-and-mortar, SUNY has invested $6.1 billion in capital construction since 2009. And with that came more than 47,000 construction jobs in New York—up 90 percent over 2004-2009. These are major investments in our communities that garner major returns.

And as you know we partnered with Governor Cuomo to create START-UP NY. New York now has almost 4,500 new jobs at 157 new companies. 143 of these are on or near SUNY campuses.

START-UP has generated more than $225 million in new investment in New York’s economy—and SUNY is responsible for 90 percent of these results.


And we haven’t even touched on SUNY’s immense research investments, returns, and big wins.

In the last five years, SUNY-developed technologies have earned more than $62 million in royalties.

The number of patents issued to SUNY since 2009 is up 44 percent over the previous five-years. This is across a vast breadth of invention—from breakthroughs in battery storage to drugs that treat gum disease in your dog. That’s quite a range.

And for a sample of our big research wins: In 2015, Albany, Binghamton, Buffalo, Stony Brook, and SUNY Poly—our university and research centers—won more than $200 million across five big grants alone.

With this support, SUNY will break new ground in health care, photonics, crime scene investigation, and metrology—the science of how we measure just about anything under the sun.

This - all of this - is a lot of accomplishment. A lot of heavy lifts. And I’m confident in saying that much of this could not have been done without one thing:  


In 2011, we did what many had said was impossible: we instituted a stable, predictable, fair tuition policy for our State-operated campuses. This would not have happened without the visionary leadership of Governor Cuomo, who is truly SUNY’s greatest champion.

With NYSUNY 2020, for five years SUNY students have been able to plan for tuition costs. And New York resident tuition remains the most affordable in the northeast and among the most affordable in the nation. And even with incremental tuition increases, we’ve ensured that New York’s highest need students are still able to go to SUNY tuition-free. 

With this commitment and investments from the State, we’ve had the support we need to ensure that SUNY’s tuition may be a bargain—but the education we deliver is first rate.

* * *

So that’s 10 monumental tasks that make massive impact at scale.

None of this could have happened without systemness—the partnerships and cooperation within SUNY. With the dedication of our presidents and our Board. With our faculty, students, and staff. And with the stakeholders who believe in us. Our governor…Elected officials at every level, including our higher ed chairs in the State Legislature…Business and community leaders who get it that education isn’t an isolated thing, and believe—and live—the proverb that a rising tide lifts all boats. 

* * *

Now if you think those achievements are something, here’s how SUNY will keep going above and beyond:

SUNY is committed to bringing applied learning to scale, and in 2015 we took a big step toward that reality. Today, we are announcing the launch of Internshop.

Experiential learning is one of the best ways for students—for anyone—to truly learn anything. It’s the real work experience that makes a difference in mastering skills, in completion, and in success after graduation. 

To this end, we partnered with the New York State Business Council to develop this new tool that connects students to internships. Think of it as an internship pipeline. 

Thousands of companies—from small businesses to some of the largest in the world—are members of the Business Council. Internshop matches these employers with prospective interns from SUNY. It’s efficient and effective, and this semester, SUNY students will have exclusive access to Internshop.

This is real cross-sector collaboration—collective impact at work—and after this semester’s pilot, we’re sure other colleges and universities around the state will want in on it, too. I love it.

Second, we have SUNY Excels.

Building on our commitment to accountability, SUNY is taking bolder steps than ever to be transparent about our performance at every level.

Through SUNY Excels we will be able to track and monitor how we’re doing—the full number of New York residents we serve…graduation rates…time to degree…student financial literacy…the numbers of creative works and publications we put out every year.

Through two years of debate we settled on 17 distinct metrics across five areas. And with every deep dive into the data, we can see where we need to do better and target our energy and resources to get the outcomes we want and New York needs.

As part of this process, last year we put it to our campuses to create individualized Performance Improvement Plans. And they—you—set ambitious goals. Our 64 presidents led campus teams that delivered great plans with great enthusiasm.

You showed us that you’ll be doubling down your efforts on enrollment and retention.

You plan to expand services in our highly successful Educational Opportunity Programs.

You’ll seek to establish new degree programs in high-demand areas.

You told us that you want to add stackable credentials—an approach we know keeps students engaged and motivated, and therefore more likely to complete and be prepared for careers, advanced education, and life.

These plans are impressive. And last month, we approved them all.

And in our commitment to transparency, every single one of these plans is available to view, in full, on line.

And in our commitment to becoming the best at getting better, we at System are going to create our own Performance Improvement Plan based on this process.

We’re going to put it all together and make sure our goals and plans are aligned. We’re going to make sure we’re all pulling in the same direction in fulfillment of meeting the state’s and even the world’s biggest challenges.

And as we move beyond our big 10 system accomplishments, there is one more aspect of accountability I want to focus on here.

These are tumultuous times and college campuses are not immune. You know it from the news, and from your own lived experience.

SUNY was founded on the principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is our bedrock.

If you know anything about our story it’s that we were founded to create opportunity for the growing legions of Americans who wanted or needed access to college but couldn’t get it…because of the color of their skin…or the religion they practiced…or the sound of their name…or for the simple fact that a she wasn’t a he.

SUNY’s openness must always continue to be fully inclusive of all New Yorkers, to truly be the People’s University. 

In the past year, SUNY’s Diversity Task Force shaped the creation of the most aggressively inclusive university policy in country. Our Board of Trustees adopted it in September.

The policy calls for each campus AND our System headquarters to put in place this year a diversity and inclusion plan that addresses recruitment, retention, campus climate, and more.

Central to the plans: Every campus will have a chief diversity officer…Every campus will offer cultural competency training…And every campus will report annually on their progress, tied to campus leadership evaluation.

Dedicated faculty researchers will support our chief diversity officer network and evaluate the policy for effectiveness. 

This is a top priority for us, an overarching commitment. Every policy decision we make as a system will ensure that while every student or staff member who comes to SUNY may have their ideas challenged, their safety, their dignity, and their sense of belonging can’t ever be at risk. This commitment has to be palpable on every campus.

All of these things—diversity training…performance measurement…shared services…cradle to career…seamless transfer—these are things SUNY wasn’t doing at scale before systemness. But now we are. And it’s making a difference.

And there is simply no stopping us now.  

IV. Update on Completion Agenda/Investment and Performance Fund

So here we are today, and with all the accomplishments of the last seven years behind us, the frame for achieving the work cut out for us is clearer than ever.

We continue to be guided by our ACCESS COMPLETION SUCCESS formula.

To make that formula real, to show the world what it means, last year we committed to two big, audacious goals:

Goal 1 in 2015 – Completion Agenda

One – We set a Completion Agenda.

We committed to raising SUNY’s 93,000 completions a year to 150,000 by 2020. Well, I say by 2020; Provost Cartwright says 2025. In short, we’re going to get there as quickly as possible.

This is where all of our work comes to a head. All of it.

And it’s where our performance system and diversity policy become tools to lift the completion line—and with it lift millions more New Yorkers into better lives.

If we did nothing differently, if we didn’t set a Completion Agenda, we project that our completion number would actually go down.

But by setting the goal and bringing to scale enrollment, retention, and completion strategies that are proven to work, we can get to that big 150. We’re not taking shots in the dark. We’re talking about taking what works to scale.

To meet our goal—and New York’s need to have at least 70 percent of its residents trained and educated beyond high school—we’ll employ tactics from across four strategies:

  1. We’ll need to bring to scale best-in-sector tools to increase retention and decrease time to degree.
  2. We’ll need to build into our degrees new layers of credentials that signify student progress and skill-mastery.
  3. We’ll need to increase traditional enrollment through a range of cradle-to-career tactics.
  4. And we’ll need to increase online enrollment—all the while working with faculty to enhance and ensure the quality of those courses and experiences.   

New York needs to do this. We need to do it so the nearly 13 million New Yorkers of working age can succeed in the jobs that drive our economy and support a good quality of life.  

Goal 2 in 2015 – Investment and Performance Fund

Which brings us to our second goal of 2015.

To bring to scale the best ideas that are proven to work, we committed to creating an Investment and Performance Fund.

We told New York that we needed new support to take our state to the next level.

A year ago we said that if we had new investment from the state, we could stretch it to make a difference at every one of our campuses and reach every one of our students.

The State listened to us and said, “Okay, SUNY, we’ll give you $18 million.” And we said, “New York, we’ll take your 18—and we’ll raise you 82.” Through innovative budgeting and through our savings, we grew the State’s investment into a $100 million fund. And we opened it up to every part of the SUNY system.

We put it out to the campuses. We said, “Show us what works. Show us what you’re doing that you can prove makes a difference in completion. And if it’s that good, we’ll bring it to scale.”

On a tight deadline, 61 campuses came back to us with a total of 211 proposals, which translated into $489 million in completion ideas.

So, we had some choices to make. To help, we enlisted a panel of independent external reviewers to ensure that the ideas put forward were consistent with or exceeded national best practices. And from their recommendations we selected programs that will give our system and our students the most bang for the buck.

Today, we’re excited to announce the first round of awards. We are investing in 32 proposals across 31 SUNY institutions.

These include initiatives for enhanced advising…development of Student Success Centers…stronger K-12 connections…new opportunities for applied learning, and much more.

As long as I have you here, let’s get a little more specific about a few of the first-round winning programs that we’ll be announcing today.

V.First Round Investment Fund Award Announcements


Let’s start with Quantway/Statway.

There’s a lot of successful people in this room who I bet struggled with math in school. Low-scores on math assessments can hold back or derail even the best students—students who excel in other areas.

And for at-risk students, it’s even harder. They take remedial math, they don’t succeed, they get discouraged, and they drop out. They need stronger interventions than what we’ve traditionally been able to offer.

Until now. 

It’s remarkable. And this is a faculty-driven approach. We’ve had strong support for scaling Quantway from faculty and faculty leadership.

The speed with which we’ve been able to scale up Quantway/Statway is breathtaking. A year ago only four of our campuses offered Quantway. But today we’re announcing that because of the Investment Fund, it is now available to any one of our 64 campuses that wants it.

Early Alert Tools

Another approach we’re bringing to scale with the Investment Fund is the application of Early Alert Tools.

Like Quantway/Statway, these are proven, targeted interventions for the students who need them.

These measures are completely proactive, not reactive. They reach students in time to help them enroll in the right class, meet with their advisor or get the tutoring they need to succeed, and pass that course. Today we are announcing that through the Investment Fund we are able to bring best-in-practice early alert tools to scale across the system like never before.

Predictive Analytics

So there’s a lot going on. And we know that you can’t be a successful system of anything in the 21st century if you don’t have the right data and the ability to use it.

Collecting and analyzing data will become increasingly essential to every aspect of research and education. It’s what they’ve done in health care, and I can’t see why we can’t apply the same theory and practices to education.

With support from the Investment Fund, we’ll be developing SUNY’s capabilities in predictive analytics—identifying patterns, trends, obstacles, and successes across our campuses and student body. We’ll be empowered to do things we could not do before, and with targeted precision: Identify at-risk freshman and get them the supports they need…create the best interventions and advising…enrich our diversity and equity…strengthen our economic impact….reinvent teacher preparation...and better support every aspect of our research.

So we’re putting Investment Fund dollars behind data, and today we’re announcing SUNY Path. With SUNY’s researchers and information scientists, we will create the most comprehensive set of predictive analytics to improve teaching, learning, and the entire education enterprise like never before anywhere in the world.

I never tire of saying it: There is no other system like SUNY, in scale, scope, and opportunity. Maximizing our data capabilities will lead to discoveries that transform public higher education and research in New York, across the country, and around the world.

VI. Turning Momentum into Results

When I think of what we’ve accomplished over the past seven years and what’s to come, an image comes to mind. A flywheel.

Like Jim Collins wrote, in Good to Great:

“In building a great institution…it feels like turning a giant flywheel. Pushing with great effort—days, weeks, and months of work…you finally get the flywheel to inch forward. But you don’t stop. You keep pushing, and it builds momentum…Then, at some point—breakthrough!...This is how you build greatness.”

What does this mean for SUNY?

It means that all the wins we’ve recounted happened through pushing our flywheel—together. Seamless transfer and Smart Track and every advancement in research or workforce development at any of our campuses happened through throwing shoulders to the wheel, and in so doing, inspiring others to join in, to lend their strength.

So what’s next? Where do we go from here? What do we do with our momentum, our wins?

We use this energy—this momentum we’ve created—to create even more successes.

Because success breeds commitment and support, which breeds even greater success, which breeds more support and more commitment.

And we keep pushing.

We push to continue to expand access, completion, and success to new heights. We push to advance scholarship and scientific inquiry and public engagement to new depths.

We push until everyone gets the message that college completion isn’t about the diploma framed on a wall. It’s about what that degree or credential means.

Degrees today must be imbued with meaning. More than ever they must stand for skills learned and knowledge acquired. We are intent, unwaveringly, on ensuring that every student’s college experience is meaningful and useful.

Everything you just heard, every program we are bringing to scale, is riveted on ensuring that every student has the chance to succeed. Maybe a college degree won’t be the end game for everyone, but it can’t be for lack of opportunity, and it’s certainly not going to be for lack of our trying to get it right.

This is the responsibility of public higher education in 2016 and 2017 and 2030 and 2050. And it is what SUNY will keep doing—innovating and adapting to reach every student and give him or her the chance to succeed.

VII. Stand With SUNY

The things we are doing are working. It’s clear. We’re not casting around for new ideas about what to do or where to go next. For now, we know. It’s to stand up and throw all our support behind what we know works now.

Over the last many months I’ve traveled the state to ask New Yorkers to stand with us. We’ve gone to campuses and met with presidents, faculty, and students. We’ve reached out to our alums—a legion 3 million strong. We’ve gone to our partners and friends in the business community. We’ve been knocking on legislators doors.

2015 was a pivotal year for SUNY because it was the end of NYSUNY 2020, and with it the sunset of a brilliant, truly visionary measure made law by Governor Cuomo five years ago. With the provisions of NYSUNY 2020, we were able to deliver on our promises and set and meet even bigger goals. We expanded and enhanced education access and quality to new heights in New York.

We have been asking New Yorkers to stand with SUNY, our university.  

When you do this, when you stand with SUNY, you are telling our State partners that you believe in bringing the best completion practices to scale, and that the Investment and Performance Fund will get us there.

Standing with SUNY means telling our State partners that we need to extend NYSUNY 2020 and rational tuition—including the State’s maintenance of effort.

When you stand with SUNY in 2016, you’re telling our State partners that to achieve and maintain excellence in all areas of the university, we must strengthen base support for our State-operated campuses, statutory colleges, and community colleges.

Standing with SUNY, together, we are more organized, better focused than ever—and that’s because of the groundwork we’ve laid over the past seven years. We’ve worked together to figure out what works, and we know how to grow the best ideas so they reach every single student.

I stood here last year and said that SUNY was committed to becoming the best at getting better. That’s been our mantra all year, every day. And it remains true in 2016 and beyond.

We have created momentum by standing up and throwing our shoulders behind that flywheel together. That’s systemness. And we want this collective approach, and all the multitude of success it yields and has the potential to yield, to be SUNY’s greatest gift to New York and to higher education.

By virtue of our being here together today, what has brought us here, we believe in the necessity of higher education—to move society forward, to change lives, to save lives. To build communities, drive economies, and birth the best ideas and technologies humankind has ever known.

We believe in SUNY’s ability and responsibility to solve the world’s greatest challenges, to be the best at getting better.

We believe in the specialness of this system, The State University of New York.

We believe in the power of SUNY.

We are the power of SUNY. Together, let’s stand with SUNY.

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