January 23, 2013
College sees performance trend
The nation’s colleges could be pressured to tie courses and degrees to jobs needed by society, as high school enrollments decline and New York state offers no new funding.
Those were some trends outlined Tuesday by SUNY Cortland President Erik Bitterbaum in his “start of school” talk to faculty and staff at Corey Union.
The college began classes today.
“The new normal is not getting cut,” Bitterbaum said, adding that only two states are increasing funding for public colleges: North Dakota and Wyoming, where the natural gas industry has pumped dollars into education.
Public college presidents are hearing from governors that degree programs should be tied to careers such as engineering, math education and law enforcement, forcing aside humanities.
He said federal education goals such as the Common Core Standards, being adopted by states — including New York in the past two years — are an answer to America’s ranking of No. 12 in the world in college graduates.
The future of federal financial aid is in doubt, Bitterbaum said, as the federal government will struggle to pay for it. He said Pell Grants grew from $18 billion to $36 billion from 2008 until 2012, federal loans grew from $67 billion to $112 billion and the number of recipients rose from 14 million to 23 million.
Competition and changes in admissions worry State University of New York college presidents, Bitterbaum said.
SUNY Cortland’s application numbers for 2013-14 are healthy at more than 10,000 but are about 400 lower than last year.
He blamed some of this on the construction projects on campus, as Dowd Fine Arts Center and Bowers Hall are being renovated, a new residence hall is being finished and work has begun on a new student life center at the former Chugger Davis Field. Prospective students and their parents might have trouble seeing how the campus will look in two years.
“About one-quarter of you are not in the building you should be, although some of you like your new location,” Bitterbaum said. He urged faculty and staff to help the admissions staff all they can.
Private colleges are offering discounts as high as 50 percent on tuition, which for them can be around $50,000 without a discount. Some area private colleges did not reach their enrollment goals for this academic year, Bitterbaum said, and are determined to compete with public colleges.
The SUNY system, meanwhile, is being steered more toward funding based on performance, a concept embraced by Gov. Andrew Cuomo and SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher.
Bitterbaum said that includes graduation rates, retention rates and student-faculty ratio, with the state creating three-year and five-year goals. SUNY Cortland is close to or at many of SUNY’s goals already.
Cuomo is concerned about accessibility of education, Bitterbaum said, as the graduation rate by age 24 is only 6 percent for low-income families, 17 percent for families with incomes between $35,000 and $90,000, and 50 percent for families over $90,000.
SUNY is increasing pressure for campuses to share services, such as a more centralized library system. The college will switch its electronic registrar system from Banner to Degree Works, which will be used by all SUNY colleges.
Zimpher will visit SUNY Cortland on Jan. 30 to have a discussion among 10 SUNY colleges in the region about how to share services — what she calls “systemness.”
Turning to the college’s tobacco-free campus policy that began Jan. 1, which bans all tobacco use on campus, Bitterbaum showed a student-produced video about how faculty, staff and students should politely tell someone they cannot have a cigarette or chewing tobacco.
He said a new master’s degree in speech pathology is planned for next fall, the first new graduate degree at SUNY Cortland in several years.
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