2020 State of the University System

2020 State of the University System Address

Good morning! And thank you all for attending my third state of the university system address!

A special welcome to the board of trustees of The State University of New York who are in attendance, especially our new chair, Dr. Merryl Tisch, and trustees Dr. Gwen Kay, Ms. Christy Fogal, Ms. Eunice Lewin, Ms. Courtney Burke, and Mr. Austin Ostro.

I would also like to welcome our elected officials, campus council members, and community college trustees who are here today.  And a very special thank you to Governor Andrew Cuomo, Lt. Governor Kathy Hochul, the commissioners and other gubernatorial appointees, and all the state legislators for their tremendous support of The State University of New York.

I also welcome our campus presidents and their leadership teams; and members of my executive leadership team and staff, who keep the system running;  our remarkable faculty—I will always consider myself a faculty member first;  and our students, in whom we place all of our hopes, and who are the reason we do all that we do.

This past year, I finished one of my initial goals to make in-depth visits to all 64 SUNY colleges and universities— experiencing firsthand the magnificent breadth and diversity of SUNY—and learning just how essential SUNY is to a healthy economy and society,  and to the future of New York state.

SUNY was founded in 1948 because the discrimination practiced routinely by private institutions of higher learning was no longer tolerable, especially after a war in which so many people of color, so many women, and so many immigrants had served so bravely at home, and overseas.

Thanks in large part to the doors SUNY has thrown open, we are one of the most highly educated states in the nation today, with over half of New York’s population aged 25-44 holding at least an associate’s degree.

With one out of three New York state high school graduates choosing a SUNY school, we are, without a doubt, the largest contributor to that educational achievement.

But as we approach SUNY’s 75th anniversary in 2023, we need to offer more than access to a consistently excellent education. We need to become absolutely inclusive.  Higher education needs to become  universal in our state.

We are rapidly arriving at a place, where post-secondary education is not a nice to have. It’s becoming a requirement, for anyone who hopes for a good career, and for any state that hopes to foster opportunity for all.

Just consider job growth over the last ten years, from December of 2009, as we were starting to emerge from the great recession, to December of 2019. The country created 18.3 million net new jobs for adults 25 and over. And 98% of them went to individuals with some college!

Because of automation and offshoring, many of the middle-skill jobs in factories and in offices that used to offer those with just a high school degree a ticket to the middle class have vanished. Today’s middle-skill jobs in health care, it, advanced manufacturing, renewable energy, and other fields, require education and training beyond high school.  

So, individuals without that education or training have been pushed into lower-paying, low-skill jobs.

And, while educational attainment has risen, increasing the supply of college educated workers, technology has increased the demand for them even more, driving up their salaries even higher.

As a result, we live in a more and more unequal society nationally—a “rich get richer” moment—even in terms of geography,  with the most innovative, high-tech industries, and their high-paying careers, increasingly concentrated in a handful of urban areas along the coasts.

In our state, as the New York City metropolitan area has largely thrived, 43 out of 50 upstate counties have lost population since 2010.

Nationwide, as inequality of all kinds has increased in recent decades, we have seen a corresponding rise in resentment, political division, and bigotry. We see some of this happening on our campuses, too, unfortunately.

For those on the disadvantaged side of the economic divide,  the costs include poorer health and declining life expectancies, unwinding one of the great achievements of the 20th century.

Life expectancies for those with college degrees, however, continue to rise.

For both individuals and communities, higher education is the only way out of a downward spiral. Economist David Autor, one of the country’s leading experts on the changes in the labor market, put it this way: “sending more young americans to college is not a panacea. Not sending them to college would be a disaster.”

The fact that SUNY is universally accessible online is so important—as is the fact that almost every single city and town in New York State is within 30 miles of a SUNY campus. SUNY is the bridge to opportunity for both people and communities. As SUNY Cobleskill President Marion Terenzio has said, so beautifully, our upstate campuses are the “stewards of place.”

They innovate and educate within the context of their particular communities. They are the cultural and intellectual centers of their regions. They attract students of color from more diverse downstate communities, providing employers across the state with the diverse talent base they seek in order to boost productivity and innovation.

Because we have such an affordable and comprehensive system of public higher ed, with strong support from the governor and the legislature,  New York State is ready for the revolution taking place in the world of work—and is offering a path to high-skilled jobs and better lives to New Yorkers of all backgrounds. 

And we are doing it with such a high standard of excellence, that 18 out of 29 state-operated campuses are ranked in the top 10% nationally for the degree to which they enable upward mobility, taking large numbers of lower-income students and graduating them into high-paying jobs.  On the payscale salary ranking, SUNY Maritime College ranks an incredible 11th in the nation.

SUNY is a vital force for economic development across the state, including on the regional economic development councils that Governor Cuomo created in 2011, as a vigorous answer to New York’s 40 year-old problem of out-migration, particularly from upstate.[1] of the ten regional councils, all but one are co-chaired by SUNY leaders.

As we approach SUNY at 75, we ask ourselves, what can we do to further advance our mission of access and excellence, as we work towards higher ed for all?  

As many of you know, my vision for SUNY includes four strategic themes:

        We have made significant progress on these four themes. So, I want to first share some points of pride, and then consider what our accomplishments mean for the future of New York state.

Individualized learning

Let’s start with individualized learning, where SUNY has really made things happen.

Last year at SOTUS 2, we launched our student success initiative SUNY Achieve—to help our students get the education they need, when they need it, and at a time and place that fits into their complex lives.

We know that our students are not all equally prepared for college, and that is a challenge to our mission of offering the broadest possible access to quality higher education.

Many colleges administer English and Math placement tests to measure student readiness. Students who do not do well on these tests are automatically assigned to a semester of non-credit-bearing, remedial coursework— which they may have to repeat, before they can even begin earning college credits toward a degree.

What a discouraging way to start college!

Instead, 27 SUNY campuses have put in place co-requisite english or math programs that combine credit-bearing work with developmental instruction.

We have found that pass rates in these credit-bearing english courses far exceed those of stand-alone, remedial courses.  It seems if you set an expectation for success— students will meet it—so we are taking this to scale across SUNY—and hope to triple the number of students in co-requisite courses by SUNY at 75.

In order to give New Yorkers and all students the opportunity to pursue higher education on their own time, and in a way that fits their lives and responsibilities, we have re-invented our approach to e-learning this past year as SUNY Online.

We’ve created a single system-wide on-line learning platform accessible to all students, coaches, advisors, and professors at any and all campuses—a huge accomplishment from an IT perspective.

But what it means for our students is even more impressive. SUNY Online allows students enrolled at one campus to take online courses created at other campuses.  When taken to scale in the next phase of the project, SUNY online will bring the educational riches of the entire system to all our students—a first of its kind for a comprehensive system of higher ed.

In SUNY Online’s pilot year, we introduced 20 new degree programs —and created more than 100 micro-credentials that enable “just in time learning” for students who need immediate skills for a promotion or new position. By SUNY at 75, we have set a goal to increase our exclusively on-line enrollment by 20,000 students.

With the tuition assistance program and the governor’s budget proposing to expand excelsior scholarships to families making up to $150,000—tuition is no longer an obstacle to pursuing higher education. This is a sea-change:  at our community colleges, retention rates have doubled for excelsior students, and they have risen at our state-operated campuses, as well.

But tuition is not the only cost of college—there is also housing, food, transportation, books, and lost income.

With SUNY Achieve, we do everything possible to alleviate our students’ financial struggles.

No student, for example, should have to choose between attending college and feeding themselves, so our task force on food insecurity ensures that every SUNY campus either has a food pantry on-site or a partnership with an off-campus food pantry.

SUNY Achieve also has made a real commitment to reducing textbook costs, with Open Educational Resources, or “OER”—which are course materials that students can access for free, or at a very low cost.

First piloted at SUNY Geneseo, and managed by our system-wide office of library and information services, oer is now offered at 59 campuses. And over the past three years, it has saved SUNY students $47 million in textbook costs.

A special shout-out to President Casey Crabill, of Onondaga Community College, who’s unique, cost-lowering “box of books” partnership with Barnes & Noble has been nominated for the Bellwether Award, recognizing innovative programs in community colleges nationally. 

SUNY Achieve is also addressing the fact that individuals with student loans who drop out without a degree are setting themselves up for hardship, taking on debt without the corresponding bump in salaries that goes to those who complete their education.

With our  “re-enroll to complete” program, we contact dis-enrolled students during the grace period before they have to start repaying their federal loans. We offer them options for paying for college and for completing their coursework, and remind them of the college completion dividend.

When you tell someone that if they only finish, they could earn nearly a million dollars more over their lifetime—that is very persuasive. Over the past two years, we have brought back to school a remarkable 8000 students.

SUNY Achieve’s wrap-around services focus on student well-being in non-financial ways, too.  With rising rates of anxiety, depression, and suicide among the young nationwide, this year, we launched a student mental health and wellness task force, led by SUNY Oswego President Deborah Stanley and Downstate Health Sciences University President Wayne Riley, to help us understand the resources required to meet our students’ mental health needs.  

In our individualized learning pillar, we are just as focused on the quality of a SUNY education, as on access and completion. 

Applied learning is a crucial part of that quality.  With internship and apprenticeship programs, we help students connect the dots between their education and real-world opportunities.

Some of our campuses are longtime leaders in applied learning, such as Alfred State College, which has over 70% of its students participating in such experiences. And with 327 new employer partnerships established just this year, other campuses are catching up—especially SUNY Morrisville, Farmingdale State College, and SUNY Potsdam.

We intend to keep the momentum going on this front. Working in concert with New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, SUNY has secured $17 million in federal, state, and private funding for additional student internships and apprenticeships.

We have found that these hands-on work experiences lead to higher salaries after graduation.  

Compare the median wages of Binghamton and Stony Brook graduates who’d had internships with those who hadn’t—

Please join me in thanking our SUNY achieve team for a year of amazing progress: Senior Vice-Chancellors Tod Laursen,  Robert Megna, Johanna-Duncan Poitier, and Eileen Mcloughlin; and CIO Brian Digman.

As we answer our mission to be fully representative of a highly diverse state, we have a real challenge:  it’s hard for students to think that they can “be it,” when they don’t “see it”—when their professors include so few underrepresented minorities or women in stem fields.   

So at last year’s SOTUS, we launched PRODiG—Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion, and Growth—to attract and develop 1000 underrepresented faculty members and women in stem by 2030.

With the leadership of Senior Vice Chancellor and Chief Diversity Officer Theresa Miller, and strong support from Governor Andrew Cuomo, the response from our campuses to PRODiG has been tremendous, with 100% participation from our doctoral universities and comprehensive colleges.

As a result, system-wide, we have hired 74  women in stem fields and underrepresented minority faculty in the first six months of the program—a very good start.

And we are building a robust pipeline for a more diverse faculty tomorrow, through PRODiG fellowships for late-stage doctoral students or postdocs that give them support toward degree completion, as well as teaching experience at one of the 13 SUNY comprehensive colleges.

And because we want our students to “see it” at the very highest levels, SUNY is committed to diversifying its system and campus administrative leaders as well.

This past fall, Governor Cuomo tapped University at Albany President Havidán Rodriguez to lead the SUNY Hispanic Leadership Institute, which offers professional development to  mid- to senior-level latinx and hispanic academic leaders and managers. Two institute fellows have already been named to senior SUNY administrative leadership positions.

Innovation and entrepreneurship

The second pillar is innovation and entrepreneurship.  The US is at a critical junction – will we continue to be the international leader in research and development or will we relinquish that mantle?  We are SUNY know what it takes to maintain our pre-eminence in innovation:  you need to attract talent, build on your strenghths, collaborate convergently, with great partners and focus on problems that are important to society. 

In my first year as chancellor, I set a goal of reaching $2 billion in annual research expenditures within 7 years.  

And we are well on our way.

Research expenditures system-wide  exceeded $1.7 billion in FY19. Sponsored-research funding was up $136 million from the prior year, and Binghamton achieved a Carnegie R-1 classification for the most research-intensive institutions. For the first time.  

The research being conducted by our faculty is extraordinary, and regularly earns the highest national and international recognitions. For example, this past year, 18 of our early career faculty members received the prestigious NSF Career Award.  And the state-funded, SUNY Empire Innovation Fund, by offering start-up costs for their research, has helped to recruit and retain these remarkably talented faculty.

This year, we are so proud that the Nobel Prize in chemistry was awarded to Dr. Stanley Whittingham, distinguished professor of chemistry at Binghamton University —for his contributions to the development of the light-weight, energy-dense, and long-lived lithium-ion battery.

Let me briefly describe the impact of Dr. Whittingham’s work: the first commercial lithium-ion battery unleashed a revolution in mobile communications and computing. There are now more mobile connections to the internet, than people living on earth.  

But Dr. Whittingham invented his battery for a different purpose—to move humanity beyond fossil fuels:

First, through electric vehicles, which is why the governor tapped him to lead a task force on increasing their adoption. 

And second, by potentially enabling storage for alternative energy sources. Today, lithium ion batteries are key to integrating renewable energy onto the electric grid, making electricity available even when the sun isn’t shining, the wind isn’t blowing, or the snow isn’t melting.  And as we know, decarbonizing our electrical power grid is our single best shot at staving off catastrophic climate disaster. We thank Dr. Whittingham, for his pioneering work.

At SUNY, our expertise in energy storage runs deep,  which is why the Stony Brook Advanced Energy Research and Technology Center, which includes National Medal of Technology and Innovation Awardee, Dr. Esther Takeuchi, was chosen by the United States Department of Energy and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority to lead the $41 million national offshore wind research and development consortium. This is a public-private partnership designed to advance offshore wind technology and grid integration. My thanks to NYSERDA President and CEO Alicia Barton for making it possible for SUNY to take the lead on harnessing our off-shore wind resources, which critical for reaching our renewable energy goals and  cutting carbon emissions nationwide!

While we have had a banner year for chemistry and materials science, SUNY is also going to be accelerating its work in fundamental nuclear physics.  Two weeks ago, on January 9, 2020, the United States Department of Energy selected Brookhaven National Laboratory, which is co-managed by SUNY Stony Brook and Batelle, as the host for its multi-billion dollar electron-ion collider. By crashing beams of electrons into beams of protons and atomic nuclei, this collider will probe the mysteries of the most powerful force in the universe—the strong force that holds the nucleus of an atom together.

SUNY will support this effort with joint faculty appointments with BNL, summer undergraduate research opportunities, and an online entrepreneurship program that will help to commercialize spinoff technology from the collider.

SUNY researchers are also driving advances at the frontiers of other emerging fields such as quantum information science and engineering.

The hottest area of research today in computing,  is quantum computing.  Because they use quantum states—which are more complex than the ones and zeroes used by conventional computers—quantum computers are capable of performing calculations that that would take years to complete—or simply be impossible to do using today’s supercomputers—such as rapid drug discovery, advanced logistics, and absolute cyber secure computing and communications.

The field is moving very fast – five to ten years ago some people thought that the reality of a quantum computer was not possible.  But, as Walt Disney said, “it’s kind of fun to do the impossible.”

this year, to advance research and development in quantum information science and artificial intelligence, we launched an open innovation campus at Griffiss International Airport, a collaboration between the Air Force Research Laboratory, Oneida County, the Griffiss Institute, and SUNY Poly. 

And with the federal government promising to spend $1.2 billion on quantum information science, two of our campuses recently received conceptualization awards from the NSF for the development of quantum leap institutes at Stony Brook University and the University at Buffalo.

As we consider our strengths in research and innovation, we cannot leave out the entrepreneurs who are developed and supported by our campuses. Downstate Health Sciences Center is the founder and developer of the downstate biotech incubator, home to 40 companies, 25 are part of the governor’s START-UP NY program, making it number 2 in the state for most startup New York companies.  The five year impact is significant – companies raised $315m, created 372 new jobs and IPO’d two companies.

And the beauty of SUNY’s efforts to support entrepreneurs is that they reflect the wonderful variety of our campuses and of our state. This year, the American Association of State Colleges and Universities honored SUNY Cobleskill with its 2019 “excellence and innovation award for regional and economic development” for Cobleskill’s groundbreaking Institute for Rural Vitality. The institute uses faculty research, applied learning, and partnerships with local leaders to support innovations that align with the Mohawk Valley’s revitalization goals.

As you might imagine, in this agricultural state, our innovators include people focused on one of my favorite subjects: food.  

In your gift bags, you will find products that reflect the creativity and entrepreneurship of our campuses and students in this space—including maple syrup produced by students of the SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry; maple popcorn from Buck Hill Farm, a client of the SUNY Cobleskill farm & food business incubator; as well as Five North Chocolate.

Five north founder Ben Conard, a 2016 graduate of SUNY Geneseo, was named by Fairtrade International as the #1 fair trade advocate in the world.  He was also recognized as  #1 in north america by adeco in their ceo challenge, placing top ten worldwide.  Ben’s company Five North is also the first packaged goods brand ever to feature the National LGBT Chamber of Commerce seal, for its commitment to LGBTQ visibility.

Ben, can I ask you stand, so we can thank you for adding so much sweetness to our lives?

At SUNY, innovation comes in many different disciplines, sizes, guises, and flavors… and we educate a lot of innovators in the arts—including the winner of this year’s Golden Globe for best actress in a motion picture musical or comedy—the cultural phenomenon known as Awkwafina, an honors graduate of the University at Albany.

To encourage even more creativity, and public engagement through the arts, we have launched the SUNY PACC prize for Performing Arts, Creation, and Curation for students enrolled at any one of the 64 SUNY campuses.

Spearheaded by Jennifer Laursen, senior fellow for arts and humanities policy at the Rockefeller Institute, the competition’s proposal, pitch, and documentation process reflects what is required of artists and curators in their professional lives, so the contest itself is a great learning experience. 

Stay tuned for the announcement of the first winners!


My third theme is sustainability. We owe it to our students to try to prevent our own species from going the way of the dinosaurs. Absolute disaster is encroaching more quickly than even climate scientists expected, in the form of horrific wildfires; rising sea levels, inland flooding and extreme weather of all kinds; crop failures; and a frightening rate of specie extinctions.

Distinguished professor James Gibbs of SUNY ESF, an expert in vertebrate conservation biology, has been working to keep a number of vulnerable species from vanishing, including the Galapagos giant tortoise, and the Russian-Mongolian snow leopard.

Fortunately, our governor has been a leader on climate action, and in July, with the passage of the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, New York State has enacted the most dynamic climate change legislation in the nation, directing us towards a “net zero” emissions economy by 2050, with 100% of the state's electricity produced by renewable sources by 2040.

SUNY is already contributing to these goals, and is on target to exceed them. Over the past two years, we have gone from a 24% reduction in greenhouse gases since 1990 to 39%. So, we are poised to surpass the New York State energy plan calling for a 40% reduction by 2030.

Currently, we are negotiating a large-scale renewable energy purchase of 150,000 megawatt hours for a consortium of 20 different colleges, 16 of them SUNY campuses.

By the end of SUNY at 75, and well ahead of climate act’s 2040 deadline, we have set a goal that 100% of all our electricity system-wide will come from zero-carbon resources.

And while we decarbonize our electricity, we are electrifying aspects of our operations that today require the burning of fossil fuels, from heating and cooling to transportation.

Another important sustainability project is one of the first mass timber buildings in New York State at the SUNY Maritime campus, to house a $4 million ship simulator. Mass timber refers to structural materials made from engineered wood so strong that large, multi-story buildings can be built with it. Mass timber is so strong that these buildings don’t need to use concrete and steel, each one of which is responsible for about 5 percent of global carbon emissions.  Beyond that, the wood itself sequesters large amounts of carbon. And here in New York State, where more than half of our land is timberland, mass timber is a self-evident as a building material, and as a new industry for us.

Overall, we are carrying out over 400 energy saving, and greenhouse gas reducing projects. And while our campuses are doing amazing work, there is more to be done as SUNY leads by example.

Of course, part of the solution to both environmental and educational sustainability, is not wasting resources—so we have more to invest in academic excellence, absolute inclusion, and universal access. 

This year alone, we saved SUNY campuses $1.5 million in wholesale electricity purchases. Our managed print initiative set a goal to eliminate ~ $25 million a year in printer, paper, and toner expenditures.

And we are saving our campuses $89 million by refinancing their dormitory debt at historically low interest rates. My thanks to Senior Vice Chancellor Robert Haelen and Associate Vice Chancellor Karren Bee-Donohoe Karren has a accountfor this achievement. 


In everything we do, including sustainability, we amplify our influence through new partnerships that ensure that the next generation of transformative technologies are invented and developed right here.

We joined forces this year with Empire State Development to bring Cree to the SUNY Poly Marcy Nanocenter. Instead of expanding in North Carolina, where its headquarters sits, Cree is building the world’s largest silicon carbide fab on the site where the Austrian chip maker AMS AG pledged to build a fab—but walked away in late 2016.

Fortunately, Governor Cuomo and ESD Chair Howard Zemsky had the foresight to continue preparing this site so it would be ready for a future fab.  Now Cree will invest $1 billion in Marcy, creating 614 careers, as well as offering SUNY students internships that will give them experience with this cutting-edge technology.

You see power systems based on the wide bandgap semiconductor silicon carbide offer better overall performance and greater efficiency than today’s systems based on silicon, and that could be key to the widespread adoption of electric cars, allowing vehicles to be charged more quickly and to go further on a single charge.

Gregg Lowe, the CEO of Cree, has said that in addition to the incentives offered by the state, two of the most important factors in the company’s decision to come to Marcy were the engineering talent upstate, much of which SUNY educates, and the pilot manufacturing line at SUNY poly in Albany. Clearly, if we want high-tech industries throughout the state, proximity to SUNY is key.

SUNY’s leadership in semiconductors is being solidified by other important partnerships. Applied Materials recently opened the $600 million Materials Engineering Technology Accelerator, or META Center, at SUNY Poly, where new chip designs are being developed for applications in artificial intelligence, virtual reality, the life sciences and autonomous vehicles.  And IBM is making major investments in the New York State-IBM collaborative research alliance hosted at SUNY Poly for artificial intelligence-focused computer chip research and development.

In all, we launched nearly $5 billion in research and development investment in New York State this year, thanks to the leadership of senior vice chancellor grace wang;  dr. Doug grose, ceo of SUNY poly’s new economic development arm, NY-CREATES; ESD Chairman Howard Zemsky; and ESD President and CEO Eric Gertler.  Please join me in recognizing their great work…


At SUNY, we have a mission that is both important, and beautiful.  It is up to us to “provide to the people of New York educational services of the highest quality, with the broadest possible access, fully representative of all segments of the population.”

Answering that mission means making choices every day that reflect our values, as well as helping our students to develop their own values.

In a system designed to fully represent all New Yorkers, there is no room for bigotry of any kind. Everyone needs to feel respected and protected on our campuses. I am very proud of SUNY New Paltz, a college that dates back to 1828, for deciding through a very inclusive community process that it would no longer honor six slaveholding huguenot founders of the town of New Paltz, by having their names on campus buildings. I applaud SUNY New Paltz President Don Christian for his courage and leadership.

I am also proud of the students of the University at Albany for realizing that a crude slur kicked into the snow and directed at Israel was not a policy position, but hate speech, and for pointing out that hate has no place on their campus.

However, our students sometimes struggle with the distinction between hate speech and free speech. By refusing to allow conservative economist Arthur Laffer to deliver remarks at Binghamton University, student protestors demonstrated a fundamental misunderstanding of the role of universities, which is to encourage civil debate, not to quell it.

As a society, we have not successfully addressed our greatest challenges, such as climate change and growing inequality, in part, because we cannot even talk to each other.  Our campuses are places to change that dynamic, not reinforce it.

So, the board of trustees and I created a task force addressing safety, diversity, and inclusion—to help us understand the changes we should make as a system to policies, training, and our response to incidents of bigotry.

Respect for all is one of our values—service is another.  With SUNY Stands with Puerto Rico, in the last year alone, we sent 500 students to help the people of Puerto Rico recover from Hurricane Maria. And we hosted the first national RISE conference at the University at Albany. Universities from around the country came to the conference to consider the lessons learned from Puerto Rico about university engagement in disaster recovery.

At SUNY, when we see suffering, we work very hard to find answers to address it. And in the city of Buffalo, we know that African Americans are in much poorer health, with 3 out of 5 African American residents dying prematurely—twice the rate of white residents—because of social factors including poor access to health care.  

To help us figure out how to eliminate this disparity, the university at buffalo has created a new Community Health Equity Research Institute that brings together community partners with  faculty and students from 10 of its schools.  As assembly majority leader Crystal Peoples-Stokes pointed out at the launch, all of us “deserve the chance to lead healthy and happy lives,” and the UB Community Health Equity Research Institute is “a major step” towards that goal.

What’s next?

Our mission at SUNY demands that we meet the needs of both students and the state of New York. As we consider SUNY at 75, we need to recognize and anticipate where the state is heading.

We know that the challenges for New York include…

The challenges also include…

Through its research, education, and focus on economic development, SUNY can help New York turn these challenges into opportunities.

We can help to remake upstate New York from the inside out, by bringing the vitality of diversity to it, in the form of SUNY students faculty and staff. And as upstate welcomes this talent—and aligns with a nation, the majority of whose children already are minorities—we believe it will thrive economically and culturally.

We can help New Yorkers acquire the skills employers require, at scale—by creating pathways for individual students that get them where they want to be in terms of career and salary. 

Right now, at SUNY Upstate Medical University, we show entering students exactly what they need to do to get credentialed in particular fields, many of which have starting salaries in the six figures.

Moving forward, with SUNY Online’s common platform, we should be able to use aI and machine learning to help students: 1) navigate the complexity of SUNY; 2) pursue a degree that is best matched to their abilities and vision for their lives; and 3) predict the kind of future a particular degree or credential can provide in terms of position, salary, and satisfaction. 

As we consider economic opportunity across the state—it’s important to recognize that 54% of New Yorkers work at small businesses with fewer than 100 employees. One of the most important things SUNY can do is to train the next generation of entrepreneurs—particularly in and for our upstate counties. 

So, SUNY is going to launch two new graduate-level programs to nurture entrepreneurial talent: the first will identify 100 high-potential SUNY seniors, and offer them a scholarship to continue on to a master’s degree, in their area of interest, with an emphasis on entrepreneurship.

And the second recognizes that many of the companies spinning out of universities are founded or managed by  graduate students and post-docs, who often keep the startups close to campus and close to their faculty mentors. 

So, we intend to draw the very best doctoral students in the country to our universities by creating our own version of the Rhodes Scholarships at Oxford or the Knight-Hennessy Scholarships at Stanford: the Chancellor’s Graduate Research Fellowships for the State of New York.

We know that over 80% of SUNY alumni remain New York State residents after graduation. With these fellowships, we are engineering what Lt. Governor Hochul calls a “brain gain.” My wife Veronica Meinhard and I so believe in helping graduate students—who really struggle to make ends meet—that we have made a contribution of $1 million to the SUNY Impact Foundation to start the fellowship fund. We will be energetically seeking further philanthropy, with the ultimate goal of funding more than 100 such fellowships.

We also will encourage these fellowship students, and all of our graduate students, to take business classes, to find mentors in successful entrepreneurs, and to start companies based on their research outcomes.


I began this speech by considering the influence of education on individual career prospects, and what side of a growing health and wealth divide someone falls on.

But, when you think through statistics such as almost all of the net job growth in the last ten years going to those with some form of higher education—they reveal the degree to which colleges and universities, particularly public systems of the size of SUNY, are woven into our American economy and society—and the degree to which higher ed influences the vitality of the nation.

The power of education is that it gives individuals who might otherwise be trapped by economic and social forces, the choices that allow them to shape their own lives.

But education transforms communities as well as individuals, by creating a constant influx of talent that attracts existing businesses, and seeds new ones.

 And education at the scale of SUNY can transform an entire state, helping it to lead in emerging industries and to invent new industries, and to spread prosperity all across the map, to all its citizens.

As we approach SUNY at 75, that is our goal: to use the power of learning—and all of the confidence and creativity and opportunity it creates—to shape a more dynamic future for all New Yorkers, in every distinctive part of our state.

We are well on our way.

 Thank you.




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