All posts by John Casellini

Q: When can a College call itself a University?

A: In New York, the answer is different than it is in the rest of the Northeast.  We have 52 colleges in name here that meet the nationally-recognized Carnegie Classification of a Master’s College and University by “awarding at least 50 master’s degrees and fewer than 20 research doctorates.”  Many of these institutions confer more than 200 degrees each year, classifying them in the highest “Master’s Large Universities” under the Carnegie rules.

But New York chooses to hold down its own institutions by holding on to the past, retaining the old definition of university in Education Department regulations: 

”University means a higher educational institution offering a range of registered undergraduate and graduate curricula in the liberal arts and sciences, degrees in two or more professional fields, and doctoral programs in at least three academic fields.”
  Six were grandfathered in with the university name, two of whom (Colgate and St. Lawrence) do not meet the Carnegie requirements.

If they were in Massachusetts, the 13 SUNY university colleges and the eight CUNY colleges all could exchange their traditional college label for a unique university name if they were part of the State University system in Massachusetts.

If any of those 21 public colleges or the 31 qualifying private not-for-profit New York institutions were located in eight other states in the Northeast, including the neighboring states of Pennsylvania, New Jersey or Connecticut, they would be able to use the University name.

Then they would be able to compete on a level playing field across the Northeast region for that declining base of prospective students who are shopping for the more prestigious university name.  The same holds true in the online higher education marketplace, where much of the growth is occurring, particularly with non-traditional students.  And in the international marketplace, where students want to “go to university” because the college name represents a lower level of academic achievement, these institutions all would see their standing improve.

Oddly, when it comes to truth in marketing, the State’s own definition is not applied to its own public system.

As prospective college students do, a look at the websites of 18 SUNY institutions show each has rebranded itself, purging the “college” affiliation from its name, now using a SUNY-Campus Name format.  In fact:

  • Among the SUNY community colleges, offering exclusively two year associates degrees and no graduate degrees, six of the 29 are marketing themselves that way – Adirondack, Broome, Jefferson, Orange, Sullivan and Ulster;
  • Within the SUNY technology colleges, associates-degree dominant, with some four-year programs but lacking any graduate degrees, three of the eight are doing the same – Canton, Cobleskill and Delhi; and
  • In the ranks of the SUNY university colleges, all of whom qualify as universities under the Carnegie definition, nine of the 13 are following suit – Geneseo and Oneonta in the Master’s Small Category; Fredonia in the Master’s Medium; and Buffalo State, Cortland, New Paltz, Oswego, Plattsburgh and Potsdam in the Master’s Large category.

New York should stop being divided on policy, allowing community colleges to market themselves as universities while denying formal university status to those institutions that actually meet the nationally recognized standards.

New York needs to make the move, joining the others in the region and raising the prestige of our institution’s labels to that of their performances, for all its qualifying institutions, public and private.  The 31 private not-for-profit colleges,13 SUNY and eight CUNY institutions that qualify would all benefit, in the region, in cyberspace and throughout the international marketplace.

Public Libraries: Providing vital access with far less, needing more because much more is being asked.

Much of the focus in the media these days has been directed toward the Affordable Care Act (ACA), or Obamacare.  Signups are occurring online and the system is working well now, but how is the target audience – the historically uninsured population, those that need the relief the most – able to sign up?  The answer is through their public libraries.

The top source for internet access for households making less than $30,000 annually, and for one-third of African-American and Hispanic-American households in New York is the Public Library system.  In fact, over 300 librarians in 62 counties received State training to provide direct support for enrollment in the New York State of Health Marketplace and have helped tens of thousands of people to gain access to affordable health care.

Public libraries are providing this important access for other pressing matters as well: They provide the primary portal to accessing employment websites for millions of New Yorkers and providing online educational opportunities for those who need it most.  Simply put, libraries have expanded their central role of providing access to information to the general public by making available the technology tools that too many in our society lack.

However, the public libraries of our state are being asked to take on this expanded mission without expanded resources.  The funds provided by New York State to our public libraries is $81.6 million, the same amount allocated to them 16 years ago, a figure over 20 percent below the statutory formula that governs the funding and 36 percent below the inflation rate.  Doing more with less is a common mantra in an era of declining resources, but the Education Law aid formulas under which libraries receive their funding are actually increasing at a rate of four percent per year.

A wise plan would be to recognize the increased importance of the vital societal mission public libraries are providing and find a way to get the funding levels back to where they need to be.  This can be accomplished in reasonable steps, over a period of the next few years, stepping up the aid at levels slightly above that four percent rate.

Yesterday, the Governor proposed a new $2 billion bond act for school technological needs, also mentioning that students should be allowed progress at their own pace and to obtain the skills to succeed in the 21st Century economy.  For this to succeed, we need to remember that those students have after school and weekend needs as well, and that the access point for many will be their public library.

Disaster Relief: Our State cannot afford to shortchange our efforts to recover billions

Superstorm Sandy devastated whole communities within our State, as Hurricanes Irene and Lee had done the year prior.  The efforts to account for the losses, enabling us to recover from the damage done and to mitigate against probable future reoccurrences, received important focus from the Governor in his State of the State message yesterday and remains a headline focus across the State today.

To document, file and obtain recovery funding is a precise task best performed by trained experts, and our State is fortunate to have the services of the best in the nation.  New York created the model to successfully maximize recoveries and the “New York Model” has been replicated in many other states, still serving us well in this time of crisis.

But when the State contract was put together to support these model disaster recovery efforts, there were no Irene, Lee or Sandy-sized tragedies before us.  The $25 million contract was thought to be sufficient to support disaster recovery efforts for 5 years, because the underlying premise was that we would face disasters with recovery figures in the hundreds of millions.

Yet, we are over $5 billion and counting on Sandy alone, and the efforts to fully support that recovery are forecast to continue well into 2015.  And there is still much work left to be done on Irene and Lee.  And that is before the prospect of any other major storm damaging New York again in the foreseeable future.

The Federal Government reimburses our State for the documented costs of the recovery through FEMA, but those costs need to first be properly documented.  In recognition of that fact, FEMA allows the State to cover over 90 percent of the administrative costs of that activity, so historically most of what we have invested in these efforts under contract flows right back to us.

However, we again face a contract crisis to support these services.  The initial contract was increased from $25 million to $75 million over the summer, but by the end of this month the contract cap will again be reached and the ability to pay for these services will end – a full year and a half before the documenting process is to be completed.

To support this important effort, the contract cap needs to be increased to $200 million, and if the recovery exceeds the expected $6 billion – which it will – we can expect to receive that amount alone in Federal reimbursements.  We need to ensure our current efforts continue, and that no demobilization occurs, because as time progresses, the ability to document the damage proves more difficult.

Let’s ensure that we put our full and best effort forward, to maximize our recovery and mitigate to the fullest extent possible.  To do that, we need to increase the cap, provide the authorization, allow the claims to be filed and enable the FEMA funds – and the FEMA reimbursements – to flow.