The State University of New York has tapped a former U.S. education secretary to make the nation’s largest higher education system more efficient, smarter, more equitable and more respected.
“We’ve got tremendous assets,” SUNY’s newly appointed chancellor John King said in an interview in an interview about his plans for the 1.3 million-student behemoth, which has a long-delayed reputation for size. A big part of the job now is to “get the message out,” Dr. King said.
“You think about what happens at Stony Brook or the University at Buffalo,” he said of SUNY’s two designated flagship campuses, “those should be mentioned in the same breath as UNC-Chapel Hill or UC-Berkeley.”
However, the SUNY system’s top campuses rank well in a long list of other public American universities. Times Higher Education and others, and Dr. King acknowledges that some key reforms are needed at SUNY and to some extent.
For the system, they include better curricular alignment between SUNY campuses, easier pathways for students to navigate through them, greater racial equity in student performance and larger investments in top-notch faculty. For himself, Dr. King — remembered somewhat in New York for his past service as state commissioner of education — acknowledged the need for better listening.
That insight comes from his experience as a state commissioner and U.S. secretary of education in the last year of the Obama administration. Both times, he fought to implement controversial new regulations that set minimum school performance standards. “As I reflect on that time, the main lesson is the importance of ensuring that stakeholders are fully engaged and engaged when making a big change,” he said.
Dr. King certainly has some big changes in mind for SUNY and the mix of two-year and four-year institutions. He is set to begin work this month.New York Gov. Kathleen Hochul has already said she hopes to increase SUNY’s enrollment of 370,000 undergraduate and graduate students to 500,000, despite a 20 percent contraction over the past decade. In a region with a declining population.
Along with those declines, SUNY has two- and four-year campuses that are consolidating some of their operations to save money. SUNY Binghamton University and nearby Broome Community College are two leading examples, and Dr. King said they are ready to help others do the same.
The governor also called for Stony Brook and Buffalo to attract $1 billion (£800 million) in federal research funding annually by 2030, double the current level.
The system has an annual budget of about $13 billion, with about $4 billion coming from the state. Dr. King said a lot would be needed to recruit the quality of faculty that would make SUNY competitive with the likes of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and the University of California, Berkeley.
SUNY, meanwhile, does relatively well on student completion rates, mostly matching national averages. “But those aren’t what we want,” especially when broken down by demographics, said Dr. King, a graduate of Harvard, Columbia and Yale universities whose parents died before he was 12 years old.
For example, at all of SUNY’s community colleges — seen as important feeders to four-year campuses — the three-year graduation rate was 36 percent for white students and just 15 percent for black students. “So we have a lot of work to do to address these gaps,” he said.
A key tool in this regard is the work of SUNY, such as Georgia State University and the City University of New York, to further guide and guide students along the path to a degree. The strategy features technology-enabled student tracking to provide “just-in-time financial support” to students who face even seemingly minor problems that could hinder their progress.
SUNY’s Westchester Community College has been at the forefront of testing, and has seen significant gains in full-time enrollment and credit earnings over a one-year period, Dr. King said. “So we think we have a way to try to measure those kinds of supports,” he said.
And SUNY Oswego and SUNY’s Onondaga Community College are promising examples of the system’s push to put those graduates into work by working closely with local employers. Ambitions on those campuses include computer memory producer Micron Technology and its promise to build a major new semiconductor manufacturing facility that would bring an estimated 50,000 new jobs to the Syracuse area.
Micron should be a good test of SUNY’s ability to nurture such important relationships, Dr. King said. “We need more micros – we want to attract more employers,” he said.