A week of major speeches bring proposed changes to community colleges

Patrick Gareau


President Obama delivered the 2015 State of the Union address to the nation last Tuesday. His speech was the first in a series of addresses at different levels of government over the course of the week that each had direct impacts on students at Hudson Valley.

On Wednesday, Governor Cuomo gave a combined State of the State address and executive budget presentation. On Friday, SUNY Chancellor Nancy Zimpher delivered the 2015 State of the University address.

President Obama is proposing to provide federal funding to students so they can attend community college for two years at no tuition cost. Under his proposal, an estimated 60 billion federal dollars would cover 75 percent of the tuition cost, and participating states would cover the other 25 percent.

The proposal was met with resistance from the Republican-controlled Congress.

Obama’s proposal was the biggest headline grabber with regard to community colleges last week, but policy for institutions like ours is traditionally set at the state and local level.

Hudson Valley is partially funded by the state, partially by the local counties, and partially by student tuition. For this reason, the New York State budget is always of high interest to the college.

This year’s executive budget includes no significant change in funding for community colleges and the SUNY system at large. However, it  did include a number of initiatives and reforms.speeches excerpts

One reform proposed for the entire New York education system is to “shift funding from enrollment to performance.”

Cuomo wants to link state money to higher education policies that have produced successful student outcomes, such as making experiential learning like internships a mandatory requirement for graduation.

Cuomo is also seeking to align community colleges across the state more closely with employers in their region. In 2011, Cuomo created nine regional economic development zones in the state which are made up of local leaders from business and education on a regional council. In his speech this year, Cuomo said that community colleges must do more to train students for specific jobs that are in demand in their region and wants them to work with the regional councils to do so.

Hudson Valley President Drew Matonak is a member and former co-chair of the Capital Region Economic Development Council, which may give Hudson Valley a head start complying with Cuomo’s proposal.

Cuomo also proposed a student loan forgiveness program wherein students who graduate in New York will have their student debts paid by the state for two years if they continue to be state residents and make under $50,000 a year.

Cuomo’s marginal changes in higher education funding come amidst some major increases in infrastructure and K-12 public education. The primary school system is one of Cuomo’s big areas of focus this year, and he has tied more than $1 billion in increased funding to the passage of a package of reforms included in the budget.

While Cuomo is focusing on the public school system as an area that needs improvement, SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher spoke at length about the need for the higher education system to improve as well in her State of the University address on Friday.

Zimpher stressed the importance of raising college completion rates in the state, setting a goal of 60 percent by 2020. Currently, about 45 percent of New Yorkers over the age of 25 have a college degree. This is six points higher than the national average but, according to Zimpher, still well below where it needs to be in order to keep up with a job market that increasingly requires education.

Community colleges were not a significant focus of Zimpher’s address. She did praise the work that they do and proposed making a method of teaching remedial math, called Quantway and Statway, a system-wide policy.

Zimpher said that the SUNY system is possibly the best public higher education system in the world but needs to continue to make fast strides to continue to be a global leader.


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