ICYMI: Chancellor Malatras, SUNY Board Trustee Duffy, and NYS DOL Commissioner Reardon Write an Op-Ed for Rochester’s Democrat & Chronicle about a Model Collaboration to Train More New Yorkers

August 16, 2021

Albany, NY – In an op-ed published by USA Today Network's Democrat & Chronicle yesterday, State University of New York Chancellor Jim Malatras, SUNY Board Trustee Robert Duffy, and New York State Department of Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon write about the new Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center, a model collaboration in the Rochester area to train more New Yorkers in high-demand manufacturing and technology jobs.

Here is the full opinion piece:

New Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center is a Vision of Higher Ed's Collaborative, Flexible Future

Recently, we kicked off construction on the $11.4 million Finger Lakes Workforce Development Center on Monroe Community College's downtown campus in Rochester, a broadly collaborative state-of-the-art facility to train individuals to enter in-demand manufacturing and technology jobs.

With no less than nine partners spanning higher education, industry, business, and local and state government with the Department of Labor, the FWD (Forward) Center, as it is called, is a vision of how higher education can—and must—adapt to the times to help build stronger communities and provide upward opportunities for all.

For years, confidence in higher education has been declining across the country, driven in part by a narrative—flawed as it is—that college “isn't worth it.” Nothing can be further from the truth. Statistically, college is more important now than ever, yet at the same time, many institutions have seen declining enrollments as traditional models fail to meet changing student expectations.

But overall enrollment trends are not the whole story. Our real problem is equity. We need to make higher education accessible and affordable for the people and communities who have historically been excluded and underrepresented in our colleges. That means going into underserved communities and bringing to them an education that truly meets individual and regional needs.

This is exactly what's happening in Rochester with the FWD Center. Bold projects like this are showing how we can break down the traditional walls of a college education to bring flexible, affordable, in-demand training and education straight to the communities that need it most.

In this new model, everything is reimagined, starting with the definition of a student. At SUNY, a student is anyone who can benefit from learning something new—a fresh high-school graduate, a midcareer professional, a worker who lost a job to automation or trade, an entrepreneur trying to start or expand a business.

And not all those students need a four-year degree. For one, higher ed may mean a short-term industry credential. For another, a stackable online microcredential that advances their skills and career while working full-time. Another may start a bachelor's degree and go on to earn a Ph.D. They may earn an associate degree at Monroe Community College and a B.A. at SUNY Brockport, then return to SUNY years later for an online MBA—bringing their credits with them at every step. 

With the economy cautiously reopening and with the need for a skilled workforce growing but in short supply, now is the time to put this new educational model to work for the people of New York and beyond.

At SUNY, we are focusing on eliminating barriers between our 64 colleges and universities—and the communities that host them—to offer more ways in and more ways up. This is the heart of our SUNY for All initiative: expanding the definition of a college student, offering flexible educational options that work for modern learners, and bringing the education to the student.

Collaboration is key to this effort. The FWD Center unites three SUNY campuses under one roof to work together, rather than compete with one another, to benefit students and the region. To bridge the gap from education to employment, we also work directly with the NYS Department of Labor and industry partners to connect students to regional workforce needs.

That's a lot of moving pieces to achieve a simple outcome: You can walk into the FWD Center, find a program in the field you want to pursue, put in the work, and connect to a job in that field.

Then if you want to go on to an associate degree or more, you can do that too, and we'll make it as seamless as possible.

This is how we break out of the traditional structures of higher education to make it work for everyone. This is how we raise the tide to lift all boats. This is SUNY for All.

Jim Malatras, Chancellor
State University of New York

Robert Duffy
SUNY Trustee and President of Rochester Chamber of Commerce

Roberta Reardon, Commissioner
New York State Department of Labor


About the State University of New York
The State University of New York is the largest comprehensive system of higher education in the United States, and more than 95 percent of all New Yorkers live within 30 miles of any one of SUNY’s 64 colleges and universities. Across the system, SUNY has four academic health centers, five hospitals, four medical schools, two dental schools, a law school, the state’s only college of optometry, and manages one US Department of Energy National Laboratory. In total, SUNY serves about 1.3 million students in credit-bearing courses and programs, continuing education, and community outreach programs. SUNY oversees nearly a quarter of academic research in New York. Research expenditures system-wide are nearly $1.1 billion in fiscal year 2021, including significant contributions from students and faculty. There are more than three million SUNY alumni worldwide, and one in three New Yorkers with a college degree is a SUNY alum. To learn more about how SUNY creates opportunity, visit suny.edu.

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