This week I had the unique opportunity to meet with President Barack Obama, Education Secretary Arne Duncan, senior White House officials, and a dozen of my colleagues from across the U.S. to discuss affordability and productivity in higher education.
It is clear after having spent nearly two hours with this group, about an hour of which was in candid conversation with President Obama, that this administration is keenly focused on and deeply committed to keeping college costs affordable, enhancing productivity and efficiency in higher education, and expanding access for all prospective students.
The conversation was respectful of the challenges that all of higher education – and public higher education in particular – faces to achieve these goals despite a national trend in declining state support for our university systems and individual institutions. I left the White House with a renewed sense of urgency toward carrying out the many SUNY programs that address New York’s own challenges, educational needs, and workforce demands. And I left more confident than ever that New York and SUNY can continue to be a model, in many respects, for education systems elsewhere in the nation.
As part of my conversation with the President, I was able to highlight SUNY’s plan for shared services among campuses, which will expand academic resources and course availability for students while increasing efficiency within the SUNY system; the rational tuition plan included in Governor Cuomo’s NY SUNY 2020 legislation, which makes the cost of education predictable for students; the SUNY Works co-operative education model as a solution to the burden of debt experienced by college students; and SUNY’s work to establish cradle-to-career networks in communities across New York that will improve the academic success of students at every stage of their education, reducing the need for costly remediation programs.
As Governor Cuomo has done in New York, President Obama seems to be willing to take a hard stance on the culture shifts that are needed to create real change to better our country’s education system. With his leadership, I am confident that we can and will make real progress toward educating more Americans and toward educating them in a more affordable manner.
Nancy Zimpher is the Chancellor of The State University of New York.