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Assembly's Higher Education Committee Chair on Gov. Hochul's ambitious plans for SUNY

SUNY Plattsburgh sign
Pat Bradley/WAMC
SUNY Plattsburgh sign

The State University of New York system is in a time of transition, as it searches for a new permanent chancellor. During her State of the State Address Wednesday, Governor Kathy Hochul announced a further overhaul of SUNY, saying she wants the system to become “the state’s engine for economic development and upward mobility” by 2030. The plan includes boosting enrollment by a third, attracting top faculty, and many other aspects. It also establishes Stony Brook and Buffalo as the flagship campuses, and reuniting the University at Albany and the next door College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering. Manhattan Democrat Deborah Glick chairs the state Assembly Higher Education Committee.

What did you think of Governor Hochul’s first State of the State Address?

Well, I thought it was terrific. And I thought that it was substantive and focused. And pretty much I would say for me, in higher ed, pretty inspiring,

Assemblymember Deborah Glick
Assemblymember Deborah Glick
Assemblymember Deborah Glick
Assemblymember Deborah Glick

How come?

There was definitely a focus on tuition assistance, our Tuition Assistance Program is exceptional. But it has lacked a real access to part-time students. So that for me was a home run. And the feds have changed Pell eligibility for people who are incarcerated. And the governor indicated that we will be able to match that by opening up Tuition Assistance Program for those who are incarcerated, because the details are about who's eligible and how close they are to being released, etc. But it's a great signal that this administration understands that our higher education institutions, both SUNY and CUNY, are vital to moving this state forward, and providing not just a trained workforce, but she made a point of saying an educated workforce.

How accomplishable is all of that by 2030, which is the deadline that she set within this proposal?

Well, you know, obviously, we'll see what the budget contains. But the systems have been starved for several years, I'd say a decade, if not longer. And the way you attract faculty is ensuring that they will have the resources and the way you get kids to graduate on time, is if they have access to full-time faculty. Running the system, simply with adjuncts, as terrific as they may be, does not allow them the time to work and mentor and meet with students in office hours or after class. So it was really terrific to hear her say that we are going to attract high-quality faculty, which means that there will be more resources going into the operating budgets in order to pay for the faculty.

She would like to see enrollment increase by a third, as I mentioned, to over 500,000 students. How do you ensure that by increasing enrollment, you don't dilute the strength of individual students or classes that are entering the SUNY system?

Well, you know, in the last few years, we've had an enrollment problem. People were struggling, they didn't have access to part-time TAP. And we have raised tuition over the last several years. So with access to part-time TAP, and the ability of people who are working to take up classes, I don't think we'll have a problem. And there is room at certainly at our community colleges. And even at our four-year comprehensive and technical colleges. We have the room to grow without diluting any of the quality and the commitment to have more faculty. I think is a home run all around.

Is it possible to meet those benchmarks by relying mainly on in-state students or is this does this involve attracting people from outside of New York's borders to SUNY schools and CUNYs?

Well, we have always had people who have been attracted to New York schools, in part for many years our out of state tuition has been lower than some of the in state tuition at other schools and other states. So I think that we certainly have enough students in New York state who would be interested in going to college, especially if they have more financial aid. But certainly we have incredible programs at many of the campuses that are unusual and niche programs, that would definitely attract people from other states. I think that across the country, we've seen a diminishing of enrollment, in part because students are putting off going to school because they don't want an online experience. They want to have a college experience on site. And so I think that as we move past this pandemic, we will see a big jump in enrollment to begin with. And as we add more faculty, we will be able to attract students, both in state and out state.

As you've mentioned, there's always a sensitivity about the possibility of further tuition hikes. Can these goals be accomplished without the student, the end user, paying more in tuition over the distance between 2022 and 2030?

When I say we've had tuition increases, the last couple of years, we have not allowed the tuition increase. What we had before were $200 a year increases, difficult for the poorest students, and difficult for some working class students, if they had two siblings, who were going to school at the same time, but I think that our tuition in general, is modest in comparison to private institutions. And we have the ability with financial aid to give students the opportunity to go to our first class, public universities.

The governor's plan, which was outlined over several pages says that she will work with SUNY and the colleges and also stakeholders like you to implement a way forward to see this plan come to fruition. So my question to you is what questions do you still have about Governor Hochul’s vision for the SUNY and CUNY systems that weren't answered in the State of the State? 

Well, you know, I think that the university centers at SUNY have the largest student populations, the broadest range of programs, but also the highest visibility. I would like to understand how we can make certain that students across the state understand the full range of opportunities at our four-year comprehensive colleges, and the colleges of technology. They have unique programs, they are excellent, and I think they get a little bit overshadowed. So that would be my hope that we would have more assistance for the individual campuses to be highlighted, and for there to be perhaps a more accessible search on the website. I think the website needs quite a bit of work.

Lastly, along the lines of what you just discussed, in this proposal, SUNY Buffalo and Stony Brook become the flagship universities and I wonder if you’re SUNY Binghamton or the University at Albany, the other two universities, if you risk being left behind here?

As I understand it, there's a certain categorization which in higher ed, which both SUNY at Stony Brook and Buffalo already have achieved. So I think that is what the governor was referring to, that particular accreditation and or certification or something. It's some categories that they fall into, but I don't think that either Binghamton, which is has a superb record and is always over-applied to, they have a very solid record. And Albany, likewise, has many unique programs that attract students from all over. I think it was really a reflection of just the fact that they have a certain higher ed certification.

Do you have any idea of a timeline for the SUNY board to hire a new SUNY Chancellor, which we have a leadership transition coming up in mid-January?

Well, first of all, the new chancellor who will arrive on the 15th, Chancellor Designate Deborah Stanley is a longtime president at SUNY Oswego and is an absolute rock star in higher ed. So I am thrilled that she will be the new chancellor. It will give the board an opportunity to do a thorough and complete search, no need to be rushed at all, because she knows the system. And she was an outstanding president and there could not have been a better pick for the interim chancellor.

A lifelong resident of the Capital Region, Ian joined WAMC in late 2008 and became news director in 2013. He began working on Morning Edition and has produced The Capitol Connection, Congressional Corner, and several other WAMC programs. Ian can also be heard as the host of the WAMC News Podcast and on The Roundtable and various newscasts. Ian holds a BA in English and journalism and an MA in English, both from the University at Albany, where he has taught journalism since 2013.
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