SUNY to Boost Online Offerings, Push Early Graduation (UPDATED)


State University of New York Chancellor Nancy Zimpher presented her plans for the 64-campus system in her third State of the University address on Tuesday, including an expansion of online education and increased efforts to battle student debt. (Gannett’s Albany Bureau got an exclusive preview Monday of some of Zimpher’s new initiatives.)

For the first time, SUNY students will be able to complete a bachelor’s degree online, Zimpher announced. Three degrees in high-demand fields like information technology and health care will launch this fall, and seven more will be available in fall 2014.

Additionally, students will be able to take online courses from any other SUNY college while earning credit and paying tuition to their home campuses.

“No institution in America — not even the for-profits — will be able to match the number of offerings and the quality of instruction,” Zimpher said. “In three years, we will enroll 100,000 degree-seeking students in Open SUNY, making us the largest public online provider of education in the nation.”

SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall said after the speech Tuesday that Zimpher’s initiatives will improve students’ success from birth through college and their careers.

“It’s a very ambitious plan, but SUNY has to be ambitious,” McCall said. “We are a leader in public higher education, and the chancellor’s outline today of how we’re going to continue to play this leadership role was very significant.”

As part of SUNY’s online efforts, top professors will begin to provide “massive open online courses.” Many of the country’s most prestigious universities present such courses, which are online for free with the aim of extending access to education. Generally, these courses are not credit bearing.

The system will develop a system of assessing higher-learning experiences, so students who’ve taken some courses, such as free courses online from accredited institutions, can get credit for their work.

SUNY will also focus on providing experiential education to students — even those enrolled only in online courses — helping them to secure internships, research or volunteer opportunities during their studies. These experiences will be recorded on an extracurricular transcript and be designated on their diplomas.

“When you provide the access and the opportunity, you’ve got to be sure that you also provide the support, and that’s what the chancellor was saying,” Cliff Wood, Rockland Community College president, said after the speech. “We have to be sure that we build in all of these structures to give students the full chance to be successful, whether it’s through giving them credit for the experiences they’ve had, giving them experiential education — all of those things that she said we need to do better.”

With money saved in recent years through shared services, SUNY has begun offering required courses more often. Increased course availability coupled with access to other campuses’ online courses will lead to more students graduating early, Zimpher said.

“We are committed to the idea that students should have the choice to graduate in three years,” she said during the speech. “We believe that by 2015, 25 percent of SUNY students will be able to do this.”

Binghamton University President Harvey Stenger, who attended the speech, said 100 students annually are already graduating from Binghamton University within three years. It has an enrollment of about 12,000 students.

“It allows students to reduce their student loans. It reduces their tuition because they’re only paying three years of tuition instead of four,” Stenger said. “The students can stay and get their master’s degree in an accelerated fashion and have a little extra value at the same time.”

See the transcript from her speech here.

UPDATED with video:


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  1. Students are still stupid after four full years, so the Chancellor decides to cut it to three. Went in dumb, come out dumb too. Why not give every idiot a PhD after sophomore year so they can all get a higher paying job with the government?