For Students, By Students: The story behind Open SUNY
Many higher education experts agree: Open SUNY propels SUNY into the 21st Century university marketplace–a big step forward to educate more New Yorkers, and educate them better.
But a secret that many of these experts may not know is the intriguing story behind Open SUNY; its conception–and the direction that the program heads today because of it. The process started with 1 SUNY student, was touched by more than 7,000 others, and today moves forward with more than 12,000 courses available.
Way back in 2010, when Open SUNY was but a star in the sky, a former Binghamton University student (now alumnus!) named Josh Berk actually lobbied SUNY System Administration to digitally expand.
I was able to develop an academic agenda for trying to reach out to SUNY administration and to lawmakers to try to promote some positive changes to SUNY’s educational model. One of them I thought had to be expanding SUNY’s presence into the digital domain. As a student of the 21st century, it seemed like that was lacking and that it had a great potential to bring a lot of new people into the SUNY system.
Josh’s inspiration came from some of the barriers that people face in a traditional education environment.
“My goal with Open SUNY was to open up the doors and to allow the maximum number of people into the higher education system that the state supports that is practically possible. And so Open SUNY endeavors to reduce barriers to access for people who haven’t finished their degrees or maybe just want to take a few extra courses, maybe in entrepreneurial studies or business because they have a great idea that they want to commercialize. Open SUNY gives them the tools they need to succeed.”
But Josh wasn’t the only student able to play a critical role in building OpenSUNY. In the months before the January 2014 launch, the Open SUNY Team conducted focus groups and interviews with 50 students; surveyed over 7,000 students; and, live-tested the Open SUNY, Navigator, and Readiness Guide websites three times with nearly two-dozen students.
Today, Open SUNY already houses nearly 400 online-enabled degrees and 12,000 course sections, and features eight degrees that are powered by Open SUNY+ (a special designation that gives enrolled students access to experiential education within the online degree program and offers advisement and tutoring, all extremely rare in the online realm).
So after all of this work, how good are online programs at SUNY?