February 28, 2018

The Future is Bright as Heroes of Today Champion SUNY Empire State College

By Merodie A. Hancock, SUNY Empire State College President

Prospectus for a New University College
Prospectus for a new University College.

Nearly 50 years ago, New York State Gov. Nelson A. Rockefeller and SUNY Chancellor Ernest L. Boyer conceived a new vision for public higher education in the state of New York, one that would enable adult New Yorkers to advance their careers through the pursuit of a college degree, while also contributing to the economy by answering a growing need for skilled, college-educated workers.

In a prospectus dated Feb. 8, 1971, they called for “an institution which transcends constraints of space, place, and time.” The new university, they wrote, “will represent an expression of faith in a more hopeful future, not yet shaped or perceived, in which higher education can open new paths of learning and fulfillment to every individual within the state of New York.” It “will place the central focus upon the individual student learning at their own pace with guidance and counseling of master teachers.”

The prospectus sits alternately on a bookshelf in my office and in the middle of my desk – a paper binder visibly weathered by 47 years’ time and the thoughtful review by college leaders and staff. Penciled throughout the document are handwritten notes by James W. Hall, who, as the first president of the college, was tasked with bringing it to life.

These three men are the original SUNY Empire heroes. They created a college like no other in the world. And they did so – remarkably – at a time when the concept of distance learning was not well known and the advent of online learning was more than 20 years in the future.

Today, SUNY Empire awards more than 3,000 degrees annually to students who have found success in a delivery model that now includes fully online programs, as well as in-person instruction, credit for prior life and work experience, one-to-one faculty mentoring, applied learning experiences and residencies and immersive cloud learning. We are a top option for working adults who want a college degree, and more than 90 percent of our graduates choose to live and work in New York. We account for 25 percent of all online learning within the SUNY system and more than 80 percent of bachelor’s programs within Open SUNY. Our total enrollment rivals even the largest university centers in the state.

Look no further than our more than 81,000 alumni for the heroes of today: nurses and medical professionals, veteran and active members of the military, emergency responders, social workers, professional athletes, teachers, entrepreneurs, single parents, and many more. SUNY Empire students and graduates – and the faculty and staff who support them – are leaders in their fields, as well as their communities.

Their success is a shared success. From our headquarters in Saratoga Springs to each of our 34 locations throughout New York and around the globe, and with our partners in government, industry and education, the entire college community has had a hand in making SUNY Empire the national leader it is today.

Thank you to our elected officials and SUNY leadership for their consistent support of SUNY Empire, to our college council and foundation members for dedicating their time and resources to our critical mission, to the brilliant faculty and staff who are the true core of the college and to our students and alumni who embody not only what we do, but how and why we do it.

Together, in just the last five years, we have re-envisioned this experimental college to align with a rapidly changing external environment. Through the work and vision of many, we have introduced new methods of teaching and learning, created systems and processes for assessing and continuously improving the student experience and learning outcomes, built and acquired new buildings, entirely redesigned our web environment and recruitment strategy, funded and begun to implement multiple new enterprise software solutions, moved our first doctoral degree and the associated Master Plan Amendment through SUNY, and so much more. Meanwhile, SUNY Empire continues to provide one of the highest return on state investment for students served.

These are the actions of an impassioned, innovative and highly effective learning organization that, I believe, would make Nelson Rockefeller and Ernest Boyer proud. And, of a nontraditional flagship that is no longer New York’s best kept secret.

There is an inherent swell of pride around SUNY Empire and the important work that goes on here, with good reason. At a time when less than 1 percent of all jobs created go to individuals who have not earned a postsecondary degree, the value of a college education cannot be overstated, nor can the crucial role SUNY Empire faculty and staff play in making the achievement of a college degree a reality for nontraditional students. Ours is an accomplished history, one I am confident will continue to advance under the leadership of Dr. Mitchell Nesler.

It has been my great honor to serve as president of this extraordinary institution. I am proud of the work we have accomplished together and know that the future is bright for SUNY Empire.  

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Merodie A. Hancock is the fourth president of SUNY Empire State College. She will take office as president of Thomas Edison State University in New Jersey on March 5.

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