Pictured, from left, HCCC Board of Trustees Chairman Donald Snyder, HCCC President Dr. Ann Marie Murray, SUNY Board of Trustees member Robert J. Bellafiore, SUNY Institute of Technology President Wolf Yeigh and Senator James L. Seward.
By Rob Juteau
Herkimer, N.Y. - The State University of New York is not unlike New York state in that both are facing challenges. And while the state’s $10 billion, two-year budget deficit goes hand-in-hand with the budget cuts and tuition increases being made at SUNY’s 64 campuses, New York’s economic recovery also shares a symbiotic relationship with the nation’s largest system of public higher education.
That is why in an effort to advance SUNY in its mission and vision, Chancellor Nancy Zimpher is leading the formation and implementation of a system-wide strategic plan that will guide SUNY for the next five years and advise SUNY in its development for the next ten years.
Robert J. Bellafiore, a senior partner and director of public affairs for Eric Mower and Associates, and a member of the SUNY Board of Trustees, Friday discussed the new strategic plan during an executive breakfast at Herkimer County Community College.
“Because SUNY has a presence in every corner of the state it is uniquely positioned to play a key role as an economic development driver that will lead to innovation and job creation,” said Bellafiore, who served as press secretary and deputy chief of staff for policy and planning for former Gov. George Pataki, and is a regular contributor on “Capital Tonight” which airs locally on News 10 Now. “The message that is coming down from the White House is that about 45 percent of the jobs that will come open in the next five years will require more than a high school education, but less than a four-year degree. That is more than a half-million job openings a year. In contrast, jobs requiring a four-year degree or better are projected to account for only about 33 percent of job openings. That is why we believe that the 30 community colleges in our SUNY system are poised to become ground zero for job creation going forward. We must start to focus on that and plan accordingly.”
According to a Democratic Leadership Council report, jobs for community college graduates are expected to grow at nearly double the national average. In fact, job growth for those holding associate degrees is expected to grow at 18.7 percent, faster even than new job growth for those with bachelor’s degrees. These “middle skill” jobs, according to the report, include everything from dental hygienists to electricians to firefighters.
“Our community colleges are beginning to see proof of this,” said HCCC President Dr. Ann Marie Murray. “Across the state enrollment increases at our community colleges are averaging 10 percent. Here at HCCC, the increase is between six and seven percent, which is on top of the major enrollment increases we have seen in the past few semesters. I think students and parents are beginning to look at community colleges in a different light, and they are starting to see that community colleges are a place to begin building a career.”
The strategic plan does not only focus on community colleges, however, as Bellafiore said all of SUNY’s approximately 440,000 students must remain at the center of any decisions that may be made as a result of the ongoing strategic planning process.
“Our colleges and universities are student centers first and foremost. The ideas of tomorrow are going to come from the students that we are educating today,” he said. “To that end, the SUNY system must remain a major force in the New York state economy and must continue to contribute to business development, workforce training and job creation if we are going to move forward from the times that we are in.”
The four-part strategic plan is currently in its second phase, in which Zimpher and other key officials will hold a series of meetings to present the system’s strengths to the entire state. The third phase is the plan’s launch, with the fourth phase focusing on implementation and assessment.
The first phase was Zimpher’s whirlwind tour of every university campus this past summer.
The strategic plan will be finalized in April 2010, with implementation set for July 2010.
“Our SUNY system will no doubt be poised to play a pivotal role in our state’s economic recovery as a result of this planning process,” said state Senator James L. Seward, R,C,I - Oneonta. “I believe this plan, when implemented under the leadership of Chancellor Zimpher, will leverage the system’s strengths and tackle its challenges to make SUNY a model of education for the nation and the world.”