2019 State of the University System

2019 State of the University System Address

January 31, 2019
Albany Capital Center  |  Albany, NY


Good morning. I am delighted that you have joined me today for my second State of the University System address.

Thank you Trustee Braun for that kind introduction.  And by the way, a shout - out to you and the SUNY Student Assembly. In direct response to a challenge from Governor Cuomo, you registered 12,000 students to vote before the mid - term elections! Congratulations!

I am grateful to SUNY Chairman Carl McCall who could not be here today, and to you, Vice - Chairman Merryl Tisch, and our entire Board of Trustees, for the faith you have invested in me as SUNY’s Chancellor.

I would also like to thank Governor Cuomo, Lieutenant Governor Hochul and the entire executive team for the generosity you have shown me over the past year.

A special welcome to Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan, our elected officials in state government, and our state agency leaders. My sincere appreciation to all of our partners in government for their commitment to public higher education in New York State.

I am grateful to the campus presidents, our leaders in shared governance, and our college councils and trustees for their ongoing support—and to everyone who participated in the breakfast showcases this morning.

And finally – to SUNY’s students, faculty and staff, especially my executive leadership team, your hard work allows us to advance our shared vision for SUNY.

Last month, in laying out his legislative priorities for 2019  - the justice agenda  -  Governor Andrew Cuomo gave a passionate defense of American democracy, and called on New York State to restore trust in it. [1]

We all know that something is wrong with the American dream, when income inequality is widening, social mobility is lagging and our federal government is openly attacking those immigrants who believe in that dream so completely that they are willing to risk everything for it;

Since its founding, our country has been the dynamic land of opportunity. Parents knew if they came here and encouraged their children to work hard in school, they could rise above the circumstances they were born into. Like many of you, I am a product of that ethos.

But everywhere in our civic life, we see the social costs of a loss of hope and opportunity, in rising anger, nationalism, and racism; and in a deepening political divide between rural and urban America[2] that echoes the economic divide.[3]

One of the bright spots in the American scene is higher education, which still levels the playing field for those who continue their studies beyond high school and complete a degree at any level.

Increasingly, Higher Ed is the only path to opportunity. In the first six years after the great recession, 11.5 out of the 11.6 million jobs created went to workers who had been to college.[4] That’s 99%!

College education is no longer a “nice to have”  -  it is a “must have”  -  and not just in the United States. We know that our competitor nations are investing in higher education and at scale. Between the years 2000 and 2014, China increased the number of STEM degrees it awarded by 350%.  But in case you think China is only concentrating on STEM skills—during the same period, it increased its non - STEM degrees by nearly 1200%.[5]

We also know that Americans with college degrees earn 80 percent more than high school graduates.[6] and citizens without a Higher Ed degree are twice as likely to be unemployed,[7] three times more likely to live in poverty, and in poorer health, and less likely to contribute to their communities and a democratic society by volunteering, or voting.[8]

  Clearly, the way for any state or nation to compete and to thrive is to offer everybody an opportunity to better themselves through higher education. So our work at SUNY is critical.

We educate over one million students a year, with nearly half in traditional degree - granting programs and the rest in certificate, upskilling, and micro - credential programs. Over one - third of the educated workforce of New York State has a SUNY degree or credential.

Fortunately, visits to 54 SUNY campuses over the last year  -  from community colleges to medical schools  -  have taught me that supporting democracy, justice, and the American dream  -  not just for the lucky few, but for the many,  at scale  -  is something SUNY is really, really good at!!

For example, SUNY Maritime, Alfred State, Binghamton, Stony Brook, and University at Albany are all ranked within the top 50 nationwide, by College Net’s 2018 Social Mobility Index - which measures the contribution a school makes to opening up opportunities to people from all economic backgrounds. In total, 16 SUNY campuses place in the top 10% of the 1380 colleges analyzed.

And the University at Buffalo alone - one single SUNY campus - serves as many students from low-to-moderate income families as the entire Ivy League - all eight schools - combined.

And the quality of what we offer those students changes their lives. Stony Brook was singled out by another nationwide study as one of the most effective catalysts for social mobility in all of Higher Ed. Though Stony Brook educates many times the number of low-income students, it approaches Ivy League colleges in its success at taking its students from the bottom fifth of the income ladder and boosting them to the top.

SUNY offers access and excellence.

I am so proud of SUNY today - and of what we will accomplish tomorrow, as we lower barriers for even more New Yorkers - and commit ourselves to offering each student an excellent education.

If you believe in the American dream, you believe in SUNY.

While other states have drastically cut their funding for public higher education - Governor Cuomo has demonstrated his commitment to keeping equality of opportunity alive in New York. SUNY continues to benefit from significant New York State investment, including financial aid for our students, direct funding for our faculty and staff, campus and hospital infrastructure, and academic support services. 

Keeping SUNY a stepping stone to the American dream is a responsibility we all share.

Yes, we depend on the governor and legislature to fund SUNY - but we also need to win the support of private citizens and to compete even more effectively for federal funding.

It’s up to all of us at SUNY - and those with whom we have a shared governance compact - our faculty, staff, and students - not to rest on our laurels, but to continually improve our scholarship and our offerings.

It’s up to SUNY and its campus leaders to find synergies and opportunities to renew and refresh SUNY - to be good stewards of the taxpayers’ investment.  

It’s up to the unions and management to work together, as we did to negotiate well - deserved raises.

And it’s up to me, as your Chancellor, my outstanding executive leadership team and our Campus Presidents, to lead:  that means developing a shared vision; garnering resources and working with our partners to realize that vision; and maintaining our focus on what is at stake - the wealth, health and happiness of 20 million New Yorkers.[9]

Last year, at my first State of the University System Address, I shared my vision for making SUNY an even greater force for prosperity and equality through four themes:

Today, I would like to report on our progress over the past year - what we intend to do this year - and our priorities for the years to come.

Individualized education

Let’s start with an individualized education that leverages SUNY’s greatest strength - the comprehensive nature of our system, and the distinctiveness of our individual campuses.

We have it within our power to offer every New Yorker the education they need, when they need it.

That means allowing our students to find the right balance between in-person and online education - to move seamlessly among campuses - and to expand their sense of the world through applied and service learning. 

Offering an individualized education, at scale, is how SUNY can be both the biggest and best system of higher education in the world.  

Farmingdale State, for example, is now one of the fastest growing public colleges in the entire country, with its enrollment increasing by 22% in the last five years.  This is due in part because it has been so energetic in creating applied learning opportunities with local companies, including Tesla and National Grid.  Backed by the experiences they gain and the connections they make, nine out of ten Farmingdale State students land a job within six months of graduating, and half secure their jobs before leaving campus.    That is success.

An individualized education also means recognizing that students with wildly different life stories and resources all deserve the chance to succeed. New York State has done a wonderful job of removing tuition as an obstacle.  With our Tuition Assistance Program, or TAP, and the Governor’s Excelsior Scholarships, 55% of SUNY and CUNY students pay no tuition.

But access is not enough. To reap the full rewards of their education, our students have to be able to persevere at school until they earn a degree. We are pleased to see that Excelsior Scholarships are already boosting the retention rates for our first-year students, particularly at our community colleges and our Ag/Tech schools.

We also know that many of our students face challenges beyond tuition, so we are working hard to give students at all income levels wraparound services.

Our students from low-income families may struggle to pay for their meals. To make sure that no SUNY student goes hungry, or leaves school because they cannot afford to eat, we answered the Governor’s call and have made sure there are food resources available to our students at every each campus or affiliated community center.

We are also working hard to cushion those unexpected blows - from doctor’s bills to a vehicle break-down - that can cause students to drop out, with micro-grants from the Gerstner Family Foundation and the Heckscher Foundation for Children.  And next year we aim to do more.

We are so pleased that the Governor’s budget recognizes the struggles - and, frankly, the heroism - of single parents working hard for a degree, with the Family Empowerment Community College Pilot Program that offers wraparound services for 400 single parents at New York State community colleges, including on-campus child care.

Some of our students have trouble clearing the academic hurdle presented by first year, college-level courses in Math and English.  We have had tremendous success with the Carnegie Math Pathways Courses Quantway/Statway as well as a co-requisite English program that combines remedial and credit-bearing coursework in a single semester.  These two initiatives alone have positively impacted more than 17,000 SUNY students. Going forward, we will coordinate these student success initiatives under a program we are calling, “SUNY Achieve”

And as part of SUNY Achieve, we are establishing researched-based guided pathways on several of our campuses to help students identify, right from the start, clear, coherent, programs and career paths, along with the support needed for them to complete their degree programs in a timely manner.

This year SUNY and CUNY were two of only four systems of higher education in the nation honored by The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and The Education Commission of the States with a $2.1 million dollar Strong Start to Finish Grant.  This award recognizes SUNY and CUNY’s leadership in giving students momentum in their educational careers and closing achievement gaps for low-income students and students of color.

And for those students who have already left school, our Re-Enroll to Complete Program has been a huge success, getting 2400 student loan borrowers back to campus to avoid default, complete their degrees, and secure high-paying jobs that will change their lives.

We also need to make sure that New York’s neediest students at our residential campuses are not graduating burdened by large loans for room and board. That, however, will require philanthropic support.   

I am pleased to say that SUNY, which has never had a system-level endowment, has now raised its first million dollars and the net proceeds will be used to support undergraduate scholarships and graduate fellowships from the generosity of individuals who attended the inauguration celebration gala.

Innovation and entrepreneurship

Yes - SUNY helps New Yorkers realize their dreams by preparing them for great jobs in today’s marketplace. We also create new opportunities that arise out of our groundbreaking scholarship, innovation and entrepreneurship.

We’re very proud of our role in local economies throughout the state.  A recent analysis by the Rockefeller Institute for Government showed that for every dollar invested by New York State taxpayers, SUNY generates $8.17 in economic activity. SUNY Presidents serve on 9 out of 10 regional economic development councils.  And a number of SUNY campuses have recently won regional economic development awards, including SUNY Fredonia for its technology incubator, which will help grow creative startups in the music, gaming, and food services industries.

We are also very proud of the entrepreneurship demonstrated by our students.  Congratulations to Team Corning Community College, who won the statewide Department of Health’s Aging Innovation Challenge, with a nifty device that helps people with motor control challenges feed themselves. By the way, four of the five finalists, were from SUNY.[10] And at a recent visit to Dutchess Community College, I met Dana Jones, a graduate who developed an app that enables individuals with disabilities to open doors by effortlessly tapping a smartphone.

And I would like to recognize our newest partner in entrepreneurship – Kathryn Cartini, a partner at Chloe Capital and the person spearheading an initiative to drive investments in SUNY’s women-led startups.  Kate – I am so excited that SUNY women entrepreneurs will have the opportunity to pitch for funding and tap into Chloe Capital’s network of advisors, investors and business pros – and I will introduce you to Dana!

 And speaking of great partners - this past year we joined forces with Empire State Development, led by President and CEO Howard Zemsky, to advance major industry-oriented research and development projects in the state.

In November, Empire State Development and SUNY Poly announced a new $880 million partnership with Applied Materials, a leader in materials engineering for computer chips and displays.  Applied Materials will be making a $600 million investment in the SUNY Poly campus to establish a new materials engineering technology accelerator - The META center. This partnership includes $50 million for research projects led by faculty from any SUNY campus, and $30 million for advanced materials start-ups. In addition - I would like to acknowledge and thank SUNY Poly Interim President Grace Wang, NY Creates President Doug Grose, the entire Empire State Development team and Applied Materials for this amazing public-private partnership.

We are delighted that Vincent Guerriero, Senior Director of New Markets and Alliances for Applied Materials, could join us.  Vincent would you kindly stand and be recognized?

Also in 2018, the United States Department of Energy recognized the quality of our research and awarded SUNY nearly $25 million for three energy frontier research centers - in partnership with the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority, or NYSERDA, and the Empire State Development Division of Science, Technology and Innovation, or NYSTAR. These centers, at Binghamton and Stony Brook, will explore new transformative energy technologies.

And the Department of Energy awarded NYSERDA more than $18 million to establish the National Offshore Wind Research and Development Consortium, in partnership with Stony Brook’s Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center.[11]


As a system, SUNY is not only leading in clean energy research and innovation - we are leading in the sustainability of our own operations, which is my third theme.

Because SUNY operates 40% percent of the buildings owned by New York State, and as such, we are a key part of the Governor’s Green New Deal, to make the state’s energy 100% carbon-free by 2040.

At SUNY, we are ahead of the game. With the New York State Large-Scale Renewable Energy Consortium, 22 New York colleges and universities, including 17 SUNY campuses, have joined forces to use their collective buying power, to buy clean power.

And this year, we issued design criteria for all new building constructed on our campuses that will make them zero-net carbon.  We also intend to retrofit our existing buildings, with SUNY Oneonta blazing the trail with its zero-net carbon renovation of its Ford Hall Residence. [12]

Following Governor Cuomo’s lead - we are launching a Green Revolving Fund that will help our campuses finance investments in energy conservation, efficiency, and renewables - with the loans to be repaid by the energy cost savings.


I promised a year ago that to support all of our efforts in individualized education, innovation and entrepreneurship, and sustainability, we would forge powerful new partnerships.  And we have.

Today I am pleased to announce a new Educational Partnership Agreement with the Air Force Research Laboratory’s Information Directorate in Rome, New York.[13] Based at SUNY Poly, this effort will focus on quantum information science, the new frontier in computing. Because they use quantum states - which are much more complex than the ones and zeroes used by conventional computers - quantum computers will be able to address problems that are currently intractable. Such as drug discovery, turning sunlight into jet fuel and or building absolutely secure communication systems.[14]

I am pleased that Dr. Michael Hayduk, Deputy Director at the Air Force Research Lab Information Directorate, could join us today for this announcement. May I ask you to stand and be acknowledged?

As you may know, the President signed a bill in December, co-sponsored by our very own congressman Paul Tonko,[15] that will establish a National Quantum Initiative Program and invest $1.2 billion federal dollars over five years to accelerate the development of quantum information science.[16] So our partnership with the Air Force Research Laboratory is well-timed and will help us compete for these funds and lead in the emerging study of quantum science and engineering.

What will happen in 2019?   

At the start of my time as Chancellor, I set three personal goals: build relationships, build a team, and advocate for a robust budget. Last year I visited 54 campuses, had 57 meetings with Legislators and the Executive Branch, and inaugurated 5 new Presidents.

In other words, I’ve gotten up to speed, and now we are ready to build on our system strength and successes to make some major leaps forward, as a system, in the coming years.

One area of focus will be diversity. In New York, we know that diversity is our greatest strength. Under-represented minorities now make up 40% of the state’s demographics, [17] and nearly one quarter of our population is foreign born. 

Like many New Yorkers, my grandparents came to the United States through Ellis Island. The day after my inauguration, my family and I, joined by our cousins from Ireland, took a ferry to Ellis Island and shared the moving experience of seeing my grandmother’s name on the ships’ manifest. She crossed the Atlantic 110 years ago – alone  -  leaving behind everything she knew and loved because New York was where she wanted to live and eventually raise a family - it was a dreamland of infinite opportunity.

In New York, we understand that our immigrant population is an enormous advantage for our economy and society. So we applaud the Legislature for passing the Senator Jose Peralta New York State Dream Act, giving undocumented students access to financial aid and scholarships towards a college education.

 New York State is great because of our diversity.  And at SUNY, our students are diverse, and our administrators and college presidents are becoming more diverse. We also know we have more work to do to increase the diversity of our faculty, who are at the front lines of teaching, research and scholarship. It is hard to argue that we are doing all we can to support equality of opportunity, when so many of our students, see so few role models in our classrooms.

I learned a great phrase from the New York State Council on Women and Girls, which is chaired by Secretary to the Governor Melissa Derosa: in April, the Council launched the first annual “If You Can See It, You Can Be It Day” to introduce girls to non-traditional women’s leadership paths. The program title harkens back to civil rights leader Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, who declared, “it’s hard to be what you can’t see.”[18]

As over one-third of our faculty approach retirement, we want to make sure all of our students “see it and be it” - we applaud the governor for supporting a program we call PRODI-G: Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth. A comprehensive solution to a complex problem, using research-informed, data-driven best practices.

PRODI-G will be led by Senior Vice Chancellor for Strategic Initiatives Teresa Miller and will help our campuses recruit and retain 1000 early- to mid-career professors from under-represented groups by 2030, with salary support in the first three years of a PRODI-G faculty appointment.

With PRODI-G, we are taking the long view. Today’s high schoolers are the PRODI-G faculty of tomorrow.

We want many more stories like that of Dr. Roosevelt Mareus, Dean and Executive Director of the College at Brockport’s Rochester Educational Opportunity Center, which provides career, technical, and college readiness training to students, 30% percent of whom don’t even have a high school degree. Twenty years ago, Roosevelt Mareus was an immigrant from Haiti without a college degree.  He took the best job he could find as a security guard at the Rochester Educational Opportunity center, where he got to know African-American men on the faculty and staff.  

They urged him to go back to school. They encouraged and inspired him, and he began to see it - thinking, “If they can do it, I can do it.”

He earned an undergraduate degree at Brockport while continuing to work and then a Master’s Degree. Last may Mr. Mareus became Dr. Mareus, earning a Doctorate in Organizational leadership - and today, Dean Mareus is an embodiment of the American Dream and a role model for every student at the Rochester Educational Opportunity Center.

Dean Mareus, would you please stand and be recognized?

If you ask administrators in Higher Ed why their students see so few under-represented minority professors, or women in STEM fields, or men in nursing and library sciences, they will complain about a limited pipeline.

You know, when I think about that excuse, I think about the men’s lacrosse team at the University at albany and the women’s lacrosse team at Stony Brook, which together earned SUNY its very first number one rankings in Division I sports last year.[19] Why this success?  Well, coaches Marr and Spallina know how to coach - that’s a given.  And they also know how to recruit.

Just like our championship coaches, we are going to track talented students from the time they are in middle and high school and do everything possible to inspire them to aspire to lead a rewarding academic life.

To create our own diverse professoriate, we will expand the pathways for high-achieving graduate students in underrepresented groups.

We will support each campus in its own strategies for diversity, including offering our campuses PRODI-G funding to educate search committees about barriers in hiring.

We will also use a proven strategy to retain our young PRODI-G professors and ensure their success, by piloting cluster hires at select campuses.  Including the first one we are announcing today at Buffalo state, which will seed a multi-disciplinary Africana Studies department.

Another priority for the New Year is to rethink our online platform to support continuous learning to serve adult learners including working students, members of the military, and parents or others with serious family obligations. (Are there unserious ones?)

Our current online platform, open SUNY, is a campus - based model designed to deliver courses, virtually, to our existing on-campus students. While we have been successful at that, with 42% of SUNY students taking at least one online class in the 2017-18 academic year, just 6% of SUNY students are learning exclusively online.

Despite our technologically sophisticated economy, New York trails ten other states in exclusive online learning enrollment.

If SUNY leverages the full force of our entire system, we can do so much more.  This year we will transition open SUNY to SUNY online with the goal of helping New Yorkers at all stages of life get the education they need, when they need it. 

We have convened a task force to re-envision open SUNY, co-chaired by two new members of my team, Senior Vice Chancellor and Provost Tod Laursen and Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Operating Officer Robert Megna.  This task force includes leadership from all SUNY sectors and relevant functions, as well as input from the New York State Office of Information Technology Services.

The task force has looked closely at what works, and how we can leverage current online offerings such as Professor Christy Fogal’s statistics class at Monroe Community College. Thanks to excellent word of mouth, universities in surrounding states are sending students to her class. With SUNY online, we want to ehance our ability to attract even more out-of-state learners, as well as serve even more New Yorkers by providing access to excellent courses such as the ones taught by Dr. Fogal.

With SUNY online, we will build new partnerships with businesses in urgent need of particular skills - and use machine learning to give students new tools to map their futures.

And we will use it to link our students, faculty, and staff into a lifelong, knowledge learning network.

Ultimately, we will make the vast intellectual resources of SUNY available to truly remote learners - at the highest standards - while expanding our own capabilities as a system. In the 21st century, flexibility is important for both access and excellence.

In 2019, we are going to go all out to recognize our most gifted educators by creating a SUNY Chaired Professorship Challenge. Currently, at our comprehensive colleges and doctoral institutions, an endowed professorship honors gifts of $1.5 million or more.  With the SUNY Chaired Professor Challenge, donors to these institutions can endow a professorship with a gift of $1.0 million - and the SUNY System will create a virtual endowment of $500,000, paying the campus the income on that sum every year for six years, or until the million-dollar gift has grown to $1.5 million through investment.

We have already received a number of verbal commitments for chairs, and not just at our four-year institutions.  Today I am pleased to announce the first SUNY Chaired Professor at Cobleskill College.  Our goal is to create 1,000 SUNY Chaired Professors by 2030.

And in 2019, we will build on our public-private partnerships to offer internships and apprenticeships to our students, preparing them to make an immediate impact in the career of their choice.  These partnerships are particularly important to our community colleges and Ag/Tech schools where students can add to their skills in times of high unemployment, such as the last recession, in order to command better jobs in a good economy, such as this one.  But the skills and the jobs need to mesh for our students to succeed.

The baby food manufacturer Beech-Nut, for example, has struggled to find workers with technical skills demanded by its highly automated manufacturing process.[20] So Beech-Nut is partnering with Fulton-Montgomery and Mohawk Valley Community Colleges to train students to move right into positions at Beech-Nut. Partnerships like this are so important!

Finally, we aim to create robust tech clusters surrounding SUNY campuses, in order to drive the growth of biotech, pharmaceutical, and educational, energy and environmental industries - to complement our world - class expertise in nanotechnology, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence.

By the way - one of the key workplace transformations that will be triggered by artificial intelligence, as it becomes ubiquitous, is making those qualities that cannot be easily automated even more valuable.

So our comprehensive colleges have a particularly important role to play in preparing New Yorkers for a future of automation and smart machines. Courses of study in the humanities that help students understand different cultures and different lives, and the arts and design programs that spur innovative thinking are going to be key to developing human traits such as empathy, agility and creativity.

Fortunately, the SUNY system is truly excellent at launching groundbreakers in creative fields. At the Golden Globes earlier this month, Television Producer Chuck Lorre, who attended SUNY Potsdam, won “Best Comedy Series” for The Kominsky Method. Also nominated for golden globes were Binghamton alumnus Steven Canals, co-creator of Pose, which has the largest Trans cast in television history, and SUNY Purchase alumna Constance Wu of Crazy Rich Asians.

Budget and legislative priorities

Beyond these initiatives, we have some important priorities outlined in our budget request and we look forward to continuing to work with the governor and the legislature to further our mission: to learn, to search and to serve.

In conclusion

The United States has always been the land of opportunity, but those opportunities seem to be diminishing nationwide. Increasingly, it seems as if the best way to get to the top is to be born there.  

SUNY is narrowing inherited inequalities and pushing back against the forces that are diminishing the American Dream, by offering excellence at scale - a wonderful education for the many, not the few.

Everything we do this year - from strengthening an individualized education by expanding SUNY online, to making our faculty more diverse, to supporting students holistically and fighting for the undocumented, to creating pivotal partnerships in innovation - is designed to enable individual success, and social and economic mobility for New York State as a whole.

We want every single New Yorker to understand that if they enroll at SUNY and work hard, they can achieve their dreams.

At SUNY, we enable equality of opportunity.  It is the most important work in the world, and i know that every single one of our 91,000 employees understands that, and takes great pride in it. And as you make the effort this year to realize the ambitions I have outlined today, I know you also understand that we are working to restore the essential promise of America, in the state which first welcomed so many of our ancestors from distant shores.

I am delighted to be able to join forces with our students, Faculty, Staff, Campus Leadership, Governor Cuomo, the Legislature and the citizens of New York State to underscore that New York remains what it always has been - a beacon, an inspiration, and a place of shining hope for all.

Thank you.





[5] NSB Science and Engineering Indicators 2018, “Overview of the State of the U.S. S&E Enterprise in a Global Context.”



[8] College Board, Education Pays 2016,

[9] The U.S. Census July 2018 population estimate is 19. 5 million:












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