SUNY wants to add 100,000 students—all online

Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

ALBANY—SUNY chancellor Nancy Zimpher wants to grow the public university system's enrollment by 100,000 over three years, and she wants to do it by adding students exclusively to online degree programs.

"It's a very ambitious goal," Zimpher told reporters Tuesday after delivering her fourth annual State of the University address. "They would be exclusively taking our online programs. That doesn't mean that some of our online programs might not have a campus experience if the student chooses that, but the big news is that we have 465,000 students, and we are going to grow to 565,000.

"And we're going to do that by serving New Yorkers, adults, who don't have the education they need to compete in this new workforce environment," she added.

The enrollment goal follows an effort Zimpher announced last year to significantly expand online course offerings and degree programs. During the speech Tuesday Zimpher also announced eight new online degree programs offered through six campuses.

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

Adding a support system that's more akin to a traditional on-campus experience to the online programs, SUNY will extend opportunities for academic support services and hands-on experience to virtual learners.

“We're building an infrastructure for online, all the student supports,” Zimpher said. “We've got a lot of adults who aren't easy with online, so we need to help them through, help them navigate the program. Then to put applied learning in an online program; who does that? We are going to give every online student the kind of co-op, internship experience, laboratory experience you would expect if you were on a campus adjacent to a business. We're going to give it to onliners.”

SUNY central will handle the administration of the additional services for online students, so as not to burden the campuses offering the new degree programs. That will likely require more staff, she said.

“Right now, we are working on a shoestring,” she said. “We have to see if we get the enrollments, but yes, we have to grow this capacity. We're taking money from savings and investing those savings in this kind of new delivery.”

Since announcing the online expansion effort “Open SUNY” last year, Zimpher said the SUNY administration has worked with individual campuses to determine which degree programs were ready to be offered exclusively online for the first time. Of 40 possibilities, SUNY chose eight. That includes three associate's degrees, four bachelor's of science degrees and a master's of business administration.

SUNY built a 24/7 support system with online mentors and then a marketing campaign and a website for “Open SUNY,” Zimpher said.

“So today, we're turning on the switch,” she said.

Zimper said SUNY's business administrators are still working on a plan for how to divvy tuition money from students who take courses at multiple colleges.

“The underlying goal is to make sure that every campus is financially reimbursed for what they're doing for our students,” she said. “We just have to figure out how to slice and dice the pie.”