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The Office of the President

Ulster County Chamber of Commerce 12/13/2011

Thank you for this opportunity to speak with you about SUNY New Paltz.  I will talk this morning about our points of pride -- the qualities that would prompt one of our students to make an observation such as this, and about our role in the Hudson Valley.  One of my commitments as President is to reinforce the role of SUNY New Paltz as an anchor institution in the Hudson Valley, and to enhance our profile, our relationships, and our contributions in the region – all as part and parcel of our core mission of educating the next generation of citizens.  I am grateful for my many colleagues who have joined us this morning – if you could raise your hands and wave.  I didn’t even have to twist their arms too hard to be here today!

Let me begin by expressing how pleased I am to have had the chance to meet many of you at previous chamber breakfasts and other events, and how grateful I am for the support that you have given me since I arrived in the Hudson Valley just over two years ago.  I consider it a gift and a privilege to lead a college that still carries the title “Hottest Small State School in America” – it has not been given to anyone else in the meantime, so we will continue to claim it - in a wonderful community, in an absolutely spectacular part of the world.  The success of the College depends very much on the support of Ulster County and the region, and in turn I believe that we enhance the Hudson Valley in myriad ways. 

A few brief comments about my professional background, all of which has been in public higher education – and that may tell you something about the basic beliefs and values that I bring to my role.  After 19 years as a faculty member, I have worked for now 15 years as a full-time administrator in successive positions of increasing responsibility.  I have worked at public universities in four different states, including at institutions very similar to SUNY New Paltz. 

These are challenging times for public colleges and universities, as they are for virtually all organizations in American society today.  The state, national, and global economies have constrained the resources that public colleges and universities have to work with, and every sign is that we will continue to deal with difficult economies, just as all of you are. 

Despite this difficult fiscal environment, New Paltz must continue to improve the quality and affordability of our educational offerings if students are to be prepared to thrive in and contribute to a very different world – a diverse and global society and economy that is volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous. This requires graduates who are intellectually agile, who have broad and flexible skills and capabilities that include problem solving, the ability to think creatively and analytically, who communicate effectively, including writing, speaking, and listening, who work well in diverse groups, and who have had experience applying classroom learning to real-world situations and unscripted challenges.  These are the very attributes that we hear employers are after in their new employees, and these grow out of the education we strive to provide.

We are grateful to our state legislature and governor for recognizing the critical role of the state university system as an economic driver and the need to invest in – rather than continue to cut – the state university system. The 5-year rational tuition plan passed earlier this year allows families to plan for incremental increases and enables New Paltz to hire more full-time faculty so that we can enhance course availability, avoid excessive increases in class size, and provide access to academic support services such as  expanded library hours.

We need to be clear that the tuition increase gave us $1.8 million in new revenue to work with, but in the past three years we have cut our budget by about $12 million. We are working to help faculty and staff and campus leadership adjust to new budget constraints and how to do things more efficiently with a reduced resource base. 

As noted on the slide, the legislation provides for a portion of those tuition increases to be dedicated to financial aid for the neediest New York students, lessening the pain of these increases and supporting their access to a college education. However, we are sensitive to the fact that even though SUNY tuition remains comparatively low, increasing costs are straining students and their families.  So we are carefully focusing our investment of these funds on instruction and access. 

I want to comment briefly about teaching and learning at New Paltz.  It goes without saying that we strive to provide the best possible classroom experiences for our students.  But showing up on campus for a class without capitalizing on other opportunities can be a limiting and limited educational experience.  We work hard to provide students with high-quality outside-of-the classroom opportunities and experiences as well that let them apply their classroom learning to real-world settings, gain experience working effectively in diverse groups, and learn how to actually DO things.  

Most of our students live on or near the campus, and we know that their daily interaction with fellow students and with faculty and staff – in and out of the classroom – provide learning experiences that are very difficult to replicate in an online or distance education environment. 

Last year, Hudson Valley students represented over half of the students earning baccalaureate degrees and nearly 60% of those earning graduate degrees. 

We are proud to be partners with six Hudson Valley community colleges within 45 miles of New Paltz –more than for any other SUNY campus that offers baccalaureate degrees.  My colleagues at the community college campuses – especially Don Katt at Ulster, David Conklin at Dutchess, and Bill Richards at Orange – work closely with me and with each other to create a network of public higher education opportunities in the Hudson Valley, part of our contribution to the seamless educational pipeline envisioned in the Chancellor’s strategic plan. 

Just under half of our new students are transfer students, many from community colleges in the region, and we serve proportionally more transfer students than nearly all other SUNY campuses.  We believe we serve these students very well.  We have the highest retention rate for transfer students from the first to the second year of any SUNY college or university.  And they graduate at high rates – along with students who began their education at New Paltz, at higher rates than the averages for US public universities and even for private colleges. 

I’m sure you know that college presidents brag shamelessly about their institutions whenever they are given the chance, and I won’t pass up today’s bully pulpit.  Some of the points I will make here are also included on the “brag sheet” that some of you may have picked up on your way in this morning.  We have continued our climb in national rankings like US News and World report and Kiplinger’s Finance rankings of best buys in colleges and universities. 

These accolades demonstrate that our reputation and popularity are growing.  For 22 years in a row, we received more applications for first-year admission than any other SUNY comprehensive college. We are in every respect at or above our enrollment capacity, and we actually serve more students than the state funds us for.  But as a result of that, we have been able to become increasingly selective in our admissions.  Ten years ago, we heard parents of prospective students say “when my daughter comes to New Paltz” and increasingly we are hearing “if my son or daughter can get in at New Paltz.”  One of the most important aspects of a high-quality educational environment is the caliber of one’s fellow students.  Professors are able to teach at a higher level in a classroom full of bright students.  And, some of the best learning is very social, and the quality and dedication of classmates matters a lot.    

We are a diverse campus, with over 30% of students in this year’s incoming class from historically under-represented groups.  Studies show that New Paltz students are far more likely than those at other colleges and universities to have meaningful conversations with students of different racial or ethnic or religious background.  And that’s pretty important for their learning to navigate a complex and diverse world. 

Some of you may have read about recent racial incidents on our campus.  These were the senseless acts of one or perhaps a couple misinformed individuals, but I think the real story here is the way that the college community came together both to condemn these acts and to learn more about race and racism and the ways that they play out in our institutions.  I am very proud of our students, our faculty, and our staff in the way they have committed to addressing these issues facing all of American society – even though these are very difficult conversations for many.
As I noted a few minutes ago, our students graduate, at rates well exceeding national averages.  That’s true for all of our students, including for African-American and Latino students – and we’ve been recognized nationally for these accomplishments. 

Our graduate programs are key to educating an advanced workforce for the Hudson Valley and we are committed to refining and growing our graduate offerings.  Our traditional graduate educational strengths have been in teacher education and school administration, business, and the arts, and in engineering –  we have the only undergraduate and graduate engineering programs in the region, and are either developing or considering the development of new programs that we think will contribute to workforce needs – such as a professional science masters degree that blends science, technology, and business, and a 4+1 engineering program that results in students earning both BS and MS degrees.

We are experiencing the most significant investment of state funding in building renovation and construction since the Rockefeller era.  These projects are beginning to address the poor and outdated condition of many of our spaces, and the reality that we have less space per student than any other SUNY campus of our type.  We are grateful to Assemblymember Kevin Cahill – who is with us this morning – and Senator John Bonacic for their support in securing the funding for these improvements.

Last year, we and our students began using the wonderful addition to our student union building.  This addition is making it more feasible and attractive for us to host and convene events that benefit the region, such as the manufacturing conference held last week that I know some of you participated in.

This summer, our School of Education moved back into a renovated Old Main, the oldest building on the campus, and we renovated a 1960s era residence hall.  We soon will begin renovating our library and the Wooster building.  We are planning a new science building and a new residence hall, and have been making great improvements in the appearance and usefulness of our grounds. In addition to making our campus more attractive and functional, these projects bring many construction jobs to the area.

As I said earlier, public colleges and universities need to be anchor institutions in our regions, supporting citizens, communities, and organizations in our midst.  It is important that we do that without losing sight of the primary reason that society supports us – educating students.   This part of our mission is reflected in both the College mission and Chancellor Zimpher’s Power of SUNY strategic plan, which focuses on linking SUNY campuses to our communities and their social, cultural, and economic welfare. 

Colleges and universities nationwide are economic engines and assets in the regions we serve.  Our most recent study showed that the economic impact of SUNY New Paltz is $338 million in the Hudson Valley and nearly $400 million statewide.  This includes direct spending that incorporates employee salaries, our purchases of goods and services, spending by students, and visitor spending.  The direct spending by the College and by employees, students, and visitors, circulates indirectly through the local economy, supporting and enriching local business and industry.   

The College is the third largest employer in Ulster County, with over 1700 full- and part-time employees, and nearly 1800 student workers, including faculty members, accountants, architects, chefs, engineers, graphic designers, nurses, police officers, carpenters, painters, and plumbers – creating in effect a small city. 

New Paltz alumni are an important part of the citizenry and workforce in the Hudson Valley. 

Our College employees embrace the values of volunteerism and community service.  Our analyses show an annual contribution by college employees of 140,000 volunteer hours – the equivalent of nearly 70 people working full time throughout the year in service to others in the region. 

Many of our faculty, staff, and administrators contribute their time and expertise to serve companies and nonprofit organizations – one of the ways that the College supports business and economic development in the region.

I am delighted to share the news that we are establishing a Business Support Center in the School of Business, which will serve as a locus for businesses and regional economic development entities who seek to tap the knowledge, energy and resources of SUNY New Paltz – especially its faculty and students.  The Business Support Center will work closely with the Small Business Development Center, SUNY Ulster Entrepreneurship Center, Ulster County Development Corporation, Council of Industry, TSEC, and other economic development organizations in the region.  I am grateful to Hadi Salavitabar, Dean of School of Business, for his leadership of this effort, and if you have questions you may direct them to Hadi.

Our Center for Research, Regional Education, and Outreach - CRREO, under the leadership of Professor Gerald Benjamin, conducts and publicizes research on topics of regional significance such as government efficiency and inter-governmental collaboration, water quality, criminal justice and jail systems, and regional agriculture.  An overall goal is to support informed discussion of public policy problems facing the Hudson Valley, and to bring people and organizations together to better the quality of life in the region.

CRREO recently developed an index of regional well-being that provides objective measures of health, safety, economy, recreation, government and other aspects of regional quality of life – so that we can understand and best respond to the challenges and opportunities we face.   

This study highlighted the prominence of the arts in Ulster County, showing that Ulster County has more practicing artists per capita than any other area of New York outside of New York City.  The ability of people to make a living as artists in Ulster County is tied to and supports the tourism industry, which is a significant part of our regional economy – as those of us who live in New Paltz are reminded every weekend of the summer and fall!

The arts have always been a strong suit at New Paltz, and the Dorsky Museum is a key part of our arts programming.  Now in its 10th year – the Dorsky has grown into a key player in the Hudson Valley by supporting exhibitions of Hudson Valley artists, by showcasing the work of emerging regional artists, and by collaborating with other arts organizations to support the arts and draw visitors to the region.  This role is consistent with College and SUNY system goals to support our regional economy and help sustain vibrant communities.

A final example I will offer of College and community partnership is student internships.  Each year, hundreds of our students are placed in internships, some paid, some for academic credit.  These are important capstone experiences that give students a chance to apply what they’ve learned in the classroom to real-world settings, to test and develop their skills, to gain real-world work experience, and for employers to “test drive” possible future employees in a fairly low cost way.

We hear from companies and organizations about how much they value the opportunity to work with student interns, and how much our students contribute to their work.  This is one of the very important ways that opportunities you and other members of the community provide for our students provide a return on your investment.  I have shared here three quotes from a recent survey of internship providers that I hope reinforce the promise of working with students in this way. 

We consider ourselves very lucky to have this intern program available.  These students were invaluable assets and we could not have produced our… conference without their help.

...was outstanding!  She was a hard worker and went above and beyond.  She has
since been hired by our organization.

... was a wonderful addition to my staff and is a well-rounded, action-oriented young woman.  Through my business, she was able to make a connection that got her a full-time position.  She really made it happen and is on her way.

I will close by reinforcing a few key points.  First, we aim to be a public higher education institution of the highest quality.  We believe that the Hudson Valley and the rest of New York deserve an educational option that is both affordable and of exceptional quality.  This is our niche.   We are your public university. Second, we play key roles in the region, economically, culturally, and socially, and want to continue building and reinforcing such contributions.  And finally, we understand that we depend on you, and we hope that support will continue, at the same time we support and enhance your work.

Thank you.