SUNY reacts to state cuts by aligning enrollment with projected job growth

by Grace

The State University of New York (SUNY) reacts to state-aid cuts by curbing growth, but plans to align future enrollment expansion with projected areas of job growth.

After surges in recent years, enrollment at New York’s public universities and colleges has stabilized, with two consecutive incoming fall classes that are slightly smaller than the ones before.

The State University of New York’s flat enrollment — preliminary headcount for fall 2012 was down 0.2 percent from 2011, or by about 750 students — does not reflect waning interest in the state institutions, SUNY officials said. Rather, it’s an effort to contain enrollment amid state-aid cuts….

The 64-campus SUNY system, which includes community colleges, four-year colleges and doctoral-granting research universities, has been cut $1.4 billion over the last six years….

Many campuses have reached “right-size” enrollment, but student applications are still flooding in, with some four-year colleges receiving 10 to 12 times the number of bids for admission than they have spots in a freshman class, Lavallee said.

Community colleges are handling the overflow students.

The enrollment controls at the four-year colleges has fueled a surge in the growth of community colleges, which also provide a less expensive option in a difficult economy, officials said.

SUNY is realistic about not expecting increased state aid.

In a recent interview, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher said complaining that the system needs more money is not a viable solution.

“Our longer-term solution is (to) help New York,” she said.

The way to “help” New York is to produce graduates who will play a role in stimulating the economy.

As a system that not only creates jobs but trains future members of the workforce, SUNY is particularly situated to stimulate economic recovery, Zimpher said.

“New York is never going to be able to realize its former level of investment if New York doesn’t get back on its feet,” Zimpher said. “So, the altruistic part of (SUNY’s strategic plan) is that we should help New York do that — that is our obligation.

“The more selfish rationale for helping New York get back on its feet is that New York will be able to invest more in public higher education,” she continued.

The Albany-approved plan for future growth in SUNY enrollment includes stabilized state funding and tuition increases.  Using this model, Binghamton is expected to “grow by 500 students a year for the next four years”.

Enrollment expansion will be managed to align closely with projected job growth.

But the increases will be targeted at programs that teach skills that are in high demand in the workforce, Zimpher said.

Student interest does not always align with the needs of employers, Zimpher said.

“We’re an enrollment management business, so we do have to pay attention to what students say they want,” she said.

“But we also have sort of a moral obligation to say to students: ‘You know, the truth of the matter is we’re not hiring social studies teachers right now, and I know if you’re wedded to that, we want to help you get that degree, but really we should be talking to you about a double major, or a major/minor,’ ” she said.

This SUNY strategy probably does not portend strong growth in liberal arts majors.

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