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New York State streamlines approval of college degree programs

The state Education Department has streamlined how it reviews new academic programs proposed by colleges and universities, state Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia told dozens of higher education executives on Thursday.

Western New York higher education leaders have long complained that the state Education Department takes too long to review and approve new academic programs, preventing the state’s college and universities from keeping pace with institutions in other states that don’t require such reviews. Many of those higher education leaders have called upon legislators to eliminate the requirement.

That doesn’t appear likely soon. Bills on the issue have languished the past two years in the Assembly and in the Senate.

But Elia said during a visit to Daemen College that her department has “streamlined some of the processes involved with getting program approvals.”

She also pledged to make the state’s bureaucracy easier to work through.

“We want to make sure we are friendly to the things you need,” Elia said during a meeting with the presidents of Daemen, Canisius College, St. Bonaventure University, D’Youville College and Hilbert College, as well as chief academic officers and vice presidents from most of the area’s 21 colleges and universities.

The new process is in a “field test” stage and took effect about two weeks ago. Colleges and universities no longer must submit reams of paperwork in support of their new academic program requests. Instead, they can complete a much shorter online application, which requires college chief administrative or academic officers to attest that their institutions have the necessary financial resources, facilities and faculty for the new programs.

Gary Olson, president of Daemen College, described the new process as a “vast improvement” that should help cut down on delays in program approvals.

Some colleges had reported delays of as much as two years. Olson said such delays hurt the ability of colleges and universities to build cutting-edge programs meeting the current needs of industry. Those employers will look to other states, if they can’t find what they need from colleges and universities in New York, he said.

Cynthia Zane, president of Hilbert College, said she was encouraged by the department’s “good-faith effort” to respond to concerns from the Western New York Consortium of Higher Education.

“There has been some progress, but we don’t know yet how it’s ultimately going to work,” she said.

Elia, appointed education commissioner in May, primarily is responsible for overseeing primary and secondary education across the state. But she also is president of the University of the State of New York, which includes 270 public, private and proprietary colleges and universities, and has regulatory oversight of degree-granting programs and institutions.