Union reacts to SUNY’s plan to increase graduation rate
By Madeline St. Amour
Associate News Editor
Feb 10, 2015
A recently announced plan aiming to increase the number of yearly graduates in the State University of New York system received a skeptical look from the United University Professions (UUP), the union for faculty and administration across the SUNY system.
To accomplish this goal, SUNY has designed a “performance management system,” called SUNY Excels. The plan will focus on five areas that are deemed “priorities”: “access, completion, success, inquiry, and engagement.” SUNY schools will each have a Chief Diversity Officer and seek to expand the EOP program. All SUNY schools will also have a Finish in Four program and seek to expand their research programs.
Fred Kowal, the president of the statewide UUP, said in an email that while UUP supports providing wider accessibility to more affordable higher education, SUNY will need to hire more full-time faculty and staff.
“In order for that to happen, we need to see a true investment by the public sector. Currently the state funds only 37 percent of SUNY’s operating costs. We are calling for a true maintenance of effort where 50 percent of the cost of running SUNY is borne by state dollars, rather than burdening students who are making up the difference through tuition,” he says.
Kowal is also skeptical of the potential effects that a performance-based system will have
on the graduation rates, and whether it will be successful.
“Research shows the goals of graduating more students, improving student success, and getting them into the workforce are not achieved by these performance-based funding mechanisms,” he says.
Chancellor Nancy Zimpher announced in her 2015 State of the University Address the goal to reach a graduate amount of 150,000 students per year by 2020.
This would raise SUNY’s graduation rate from 47 percent to 60 percent, according to the transcript of Zimpher’s address. The press release describing the system notes that it was created with the help of stakeholders, including “trustees, presidents, chief academic and enrollment officers, faculty and student governance leaders, and other[s].”
UUP, which has more than 35,000 members across SUNY, said that it was not involved in the development of the plan.
Karl Luntta, spokesperson for the University at Albany, said that while the Chancellor’s plan is ambitious, he believes that it will benefit both SUNY and
UAlbany, as well as students and the state, as it gets put into effect.
He also said that UAlbany already has provisions set aside for increasing enrollment by 1350 students, and that the university is planning to add faculty to maintain the current student-to-teacher ratio.
“Having more students doesn’t necessarily drain the resources of the university; it adds resources,” Luntta said.
A part of the plan would also require all students to have an internship before they graduate. In response to this, Kowal said that he isn’t sure how this would be effective for working, single parents, for example. Nontraditional students may have a harder time fulfilling this requirement. He also mentioned that liberal arts students may have trouble finding internships in their fields.
“We are concerned that our students get a wide-ranging education so that they are trained not just as employees for a particular job, but they have the skills to be well-rounded, engaged citizens,” he said.