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.

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