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SUNY Chancellor wants all campuses to offer four-year graduation guarantee

Within the next five years, State University of New York Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher expects to see a 60 percent increase in the number of undergraduate students earning bachelor’s degrees from SUNY colleges and universities.

She also wants to increase the percentage of adults in New York who have an associate’s degree or higher from 45 percent to 60 percent by 2020 – a necessity, said Zimpher, for the middle-wage jobs of the near future.

Achieving those goals will require more money, but Zimpher said in her annual “State of SUNY” address Friday in Albany that an investment in SUNY is “an investment in the promise of every person to ensure that no one is missing out on a better life because of chance.

“It is the best investment that we can make,” she said.

Pushing to increase the annual rate of SUNY graduates from 93,000 to 150,000 by 2020, Zimpher said the state and SUNY need to “make bigger investments in what works.” And she highlighted “Finish in Four” programs at the University at Buffalo and at SUNY Fredonia State as initiatives that should be replicated across all 64 campuses in the system.

Both UB and Fredonia provide a guarantee that undergraduates will be able to take the courses they need to complete their bachelor’s degrees within four years, provided the students keep up their grades and communicate with their academic advisers.

“Four of our schools – the University at Buffalo, Oswego, Fredonia and Potsdam – have guarantees like these,” Zimipher said. “The deal is, students, if the course you need isn’t ready when you are, that’s on us. SUNY picks up the tab.

“But you students have to do your part – prioritize your schoolwork, enroll full time and participate in regular advising,” she said. “This is the kind of program we need to take to scale. So starting today, we will work to ensure that Finish in Four programs are available to all students, systemwide.”

Zimpher’s other proposals Friday included:

• Having SUNY partner with elementary and secondary schools in placing SUNY college advisers in every school district across the state;

• Launching a Massive Open Online Course, also known as a MOOC, that would prepare high school students and their families for college, including academic, admissions and financial aid;

• Expanding access to the state’s Educational Opportunity Program, which currently has 30,000 applicants per year for 2,500 seats; and

• Requiring every campus to hire a chief diversity officer.

While not mentioning any dollar amounts attached to the proposals, Zimpher said that “we cannot make futuristic changes on yesterday’s dollar.”

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s 2016 budget proposal, released on Wednesday, would raise state spending on SUNY by $7 million to $987 million, far short of the $1.1 billion that the SUNY board of trustees had requested in November.

Zimpher said SUNY will press for more as legislators begin budget negotiations. “We will be asking all of our partners, public and private, for more,” she said. “Be ready, because this is what New York needs.”

email: jtokasz@buffnews.com