Just shy of two weeks ago, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo caused a hypothetical question I wrote on several blog posts ago to become lot more real by proposing free college for New Yorkers.
Admittedly, I have some longstanding feelings about this possibility; my earlier post falls down on the side of college education being a public good. Since January 3, I’ve appreciated the opportunity to read and hear what others think about this proposal. As always, opposing viewpoints cause me to reflect upon and challenge my own opinions while similar viewpoints help me nuance them.
Only one opposing viewpoint, however, has made me cringe every time and has not impacted my viewpoint at all. I’ve read and heard it several times. It’s the “students need skin in the game” sort of comment.
Remember, I’m a community college person. So here’s two things I know about my professional world.
First, all research points to students taking 15 credits a semester (that’s full time, meaning a community college student completes a 2 year degree in 2 years) contributes mightily to students successfully completing their courses and successfully completing their degrees. This is one of Complete College America’s greatest areas of research, interest, and advocacy.
Governor Cuomo’s proposal for free college only applies to those students attending full time.
The second thing I know is that community college students work….they work a lot. At SUNY Orange, about 33% of our students work at least 20 hours a week and most of the rest work at least some as they pursue their studies. But we also know community college students don’t complete “on time” (the vast majority taking more than 2 years to complete a 2 year degree) and far too many stop out, usually citing something that is somehow tied to money as the reason. Community colleges are often criticized for having so many non-completers or students who take additional time to complete.
Could it be that otherwise capable students have too much skin in the game?
Because they are attempting to earn to pay for school, to contribute to their families, to cover the costs of transportation to get to school (and work), and on and on…for some, might that not be the reason they can’t take 15 credits a semester?
SUNY Orange is growing in number of part-time students and shrinking in proportion of full-time students. While our access mission is imperative and we’ll never, ever, diminish our services to part-time students, we know that every part-time registrant has possibly decreased their chances of achieving a degree.
Many decision-makers (and count me among them ) had a relatively privileged path through higher education. Thanks to finding my life’s calling in the community college, I know that the majority of American students in higher education didn’t have a path like mine. Governor Cuomo’s proposal needs to be heard out, detailed, and massaged. But most of all, it needs to lay upon the reality of who really attends college, or who wants to attend, in New York and and our nation.
I’ve spent many hours contemplating my role as president of an institution of higher education in the aftermath of our presidential election last week.
Earlier today, I finally discovered the words I wanted to share with the 5400+ diverse students of Orange County Community College.
Many of you voted in your first presidential election last week.
I remember when I voted in my first presidential election.
I cast my first presidential ballot as a freshman in college. Over the course of my undergraduate years, I had discussions with professors, participated in clubs, had deep (and shallow) conversations with newly made friends, read and interacted with course material, talked with my internship mentors, and yes, sometimes had some quiet moments.
By the time I cast my second presidential ballot, I understood more deeply why I held some beliefs as profoundly as I did and why I had voted as I had four years prior. But some of the opinions I had held four years prior had been obliterated and replaced, usually by full subscription to viewpoints that I had not known existed or that I had not previously grasped their meanings. I also had a large number of topics on which I held multiple, sometimes conflicting opinions. For those, I took comfort in the words of F. Scott Fitzgerald: “The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.”
How fortunate we are to be associated presently with SUNY Orange, a community of scholars, where learning and thoughtful discourse in the pursuit of learning is cherished, valued, and essential.
I appreciate that within our incredibly diverse student body that there are those among you who are filled with great anticipation and hope for a better world based on the outcome of the election. There are also others among you who are genuinely despondent and afraid for your safety, welfare, and future. There are others among you who don’t care or are trying not to care and just want to get through the semester. And there are still others who don’t fit any of these descriptions.
To all of you, I say: grab on to the opportunity college gives you to make sense of the world around you and to clarify your points of view. Engage our professors, staff, and administrators. Use your club memberships to promote your stance on issues and involve others. Talk with your classmates. Challenge yourself to consciously use class assignments for their intended purpose – to expand your knowledge and wisdom. Reflect.
And above all else, seek input from those with whom you share opinions, and hold respectful dialogue with those who hold differing viewpoints. Understanding and appreciating diverse opinions is most critical to maintaining the healthy, tolerant and inclusive community we collectively demand at SUNY Orange.
There are those who would say that civility is dead and those that shout the loudest rule the day. Both represent the antithesis of what it means to be part of a community of scholars. It’s not the way we learn, generate knowledge, or advance our communities. SUNY Orange promises you a safe and welcoming environment. Now, you go out and do the tough work of being a scholar.
There was once a time where most of us assumed that our safety and security was not at risk. Unfortunately, incidents dating from the massacre at Columbine High School to more recent incidents at the Aurora (Colorado) movie theatre, Sandy Hook Elementary School, Boston Marathon, Umpqua Community College, UCLA, and the Pulse nightclub in Florida and too many others to outline here have shattered that long-ago reality. Today, we live in an “If you See Something, Say Something” world where many people are constantly looking over their shoulder and no one can be sure where the next atrocity might occur.
Since arriving at SUNY Orange and happily settling into my first presidency, our great nation has endured some of the incidents I mentioned above. After the somewhat overlooked murder-suicide at UCLA this past June 1 (which begs a question about how we’ve even come to overlook such things), my sense of responsibility was heightened. It seems that social media was accessed by more on-campus individuals than UCLA’s official communication systems and, not surprisingly, different understandings of what was happening resulted. While UCLA has an urban and expansive campus unlike ours (students in buildings distant to the event were not at risk), based on these communications and life experiences, those at UCLA that day reacted differently than one another and sometimes at odds with one another or what the incident indicated. I worried more than ever about SUNY Orange’s response should we ever be visited by such a threat.
But it was after the Pulse nightclub event, the deadliest mass shooting in our nation’s history, when I felt most compelled to share what I was feeling and what I was thinking with our College community. I wanted to comfort our students and our employees. But I wasn’t comfortable posting those thoughts in any of the “official” communication tools available to me at the College. Shortly afterward, I elected to pursue this blog as a casual, non-official way to occasionally share my thoughts and emotions on all types of topics, both positive and negative.
And, I resolved to do more to prepare SUNY Orange.
Over the past year, I’ve reflected often and solicited advice about how we can further improve the safety and security of both our Middletown and Newburgh campuses. We’ve done quite a bit both behind and in-front-of-the-scenes, and our crime statistics (which will be posted in our annual Safety and Security report due out by the end of September) show that both of our campuses are exceptionally safe. But in this line of work, and at this time in our society’s evolution, you cannot rest on your laurels, and you can never be too prepared.
That’s why I’ve directed SUNY Orange to hold a College-wide “Shelter in Place” drill on the morning of Sept. 28. I want us to go through the practice of holding this drill so that we can assess our preparedness, train our students and employees, and implement improvements in those areas where more work is necessary.
This drill will be held on both campuses simultaneously and will involve all of the components of an actual emergency: “shelter in place” announcements, emergency alert notifications through New York Alert, web site and social media messaging, and a strong Safety and Security presence in all buildings.
In preparation for the drill, I’m asking each member of the College community to:
- Familiarize themselves with the College’s emergency procedures, available at the following locations:
- Red flip cards located in most offices and classrooms across both campuses
- College Emergency Procedures: http://www.sunyorange.edu/safety/procedures.shtml
- Safety and Security Resources: http://www.sunyorange.edu/safety/resources.shtml
- Update or verify the accuracy of their “emergency contact” information contained in the New York Alert system (accessible via Banner in MySUNYOrange)
- Take a few moments, between now and the drill, to assess their surroundings and think about the actions they might take when instructed to “Shelter in Place” or “Seek Shelter.”
- Alert their family and friends about the drill, particularly if they may see or receive one of the messages we’ll be distributing via New York Alert. We don’t want the general public to think the College is experiencing a real emergency and contact 911 or local authorities.
It is my hope that everyone will learn something from this drill, but more importantly, I want people to come away with a greater comfort in their own level of preparedness. The safety of our entire College community is a partnership to which we all must contribute.
SUNY Orange will continue practicing for these types of event, but it is my sincere hope that we never have to put these procedures into use.
Last Thursday, my Twitter account blew up with stories about and references to SUNY New Paltz’s new student move-in day. About 1,100 freshmen and about 800 more transfer students descended upon New Paltz. Our local newspaper, the Times Herald Record, even did a story on excited students and their tearful families joining the Hawk family.
“But hey,” I thought. “Little ol’ SUNY Orange will be starting about that many new students on Monday too.” I wondered if my Twitter account or local media would be nearly as active.
Now let me 100% clear: I love our SUNY sister college and neighbor to the north. SUNY New Paltz is SUNY Orange’s most popular transfer destination. President Don Christian reached out to me soon after my arrival last year and he and his senior team have been welcoming and collaborative. Our faculty and staff collaborate often. This post is not a knock on SUNY New Paltz.
This post is, however, a shout out to SUNY Orange’s first-time college student class, over 1300 strong, as well as to our incoming transfer students, another 400 or so coming to our college for the fist time on Monday. Final figures will be available in early September (unlike 4-year colleges, we don’t know who is coming in April…we find out in late August!), but when all is said and done, we’ll have more first time freshman students than New Paltz and probably be only modestly shy of their overall new student mark of 1,900.
We won’t have camera ready scenes of cars snaking toward residence halls, possessions and families in tow. Instead, we’ll have about 1,700 new students, about 40% of whom who just drove over 30 minutes one way to get to us, step into their college lives without mom and dad nearby. In fact, about 15% of our students are parents themselves. Over 34% of our students cite family responsibilities, some to their own parents and siblings, as a major to moderate problem in being successful at college.
And not surprisingly, community college students tend to work. SUNY Orange students work a lot. One out of every three of our students works more than 21 hours a week off campus.
SUNY Orange students are increasingly Hispanic and Black, between the ages of 22-29, going to college part-time, and grabbing up as many online seats as we can put out. While the majority of our students are full-time and between the ages of 18-22, our overall profile is changing, and changing rapidly.
Remember I said that SUNY New Paltz is our biggest transfer destination? This means these 1,700 students will take on a curriculum as rigorous as what our transfer destinations offer. We want those credits to transfer cleanly and completely and we want our students to succeed when they get there.
Our students work very hard and many are very successful. But you may not fully know who our students are.
So, do me a favor? Blow up Twitter or your social media platform of choice this week. Congratulate and celebrate your local community college’s new students and the many more continuing and returning students (about 3,500 at SUNY Orange). They deserve our awareness and encouragement too.
Yesterday I attended the Public Hearing for the 2016-2017 Orange County Community College (SUNY Orange) budget. Our budget was presented brilliantly by our College Controller.
SUNY Orange is fortunate to enjoy one of the most generous sponsors in the state of New York. Orange County historically provides about 30% of our operating revenue.
After making my introductory remarks and returning the audience, I wondered how many outside the auditorium knew the level to which our county, our state, and other sources contributed to the total cost of attending SUNY Orange.
In our proposed budget, we are requesting that the county contributes 29.3% of our operating revenue, we forecast that the state will contribute 21.5%, we budget that students will provide 38.0% via tuition, and the remainder is a mash-up of chargebacks, service fees, self-sustaining courses, and other. With a proposed balanced budget, each one of these incoming dollars is aligned with an projected expense, the vast majority of it in personnel and benefits.
On one hand, it can be viewed that credit students are only paying $0.38 for every $1.00 that it takes to provide a learner-centered, high quality education. What a deal – there’s hardly another like it in all of higher education!
On the other hand, I know from nearly two decades of direct community college experience that for too many community college students, coming up with that $0.38 is an extraordinary struggle. Walk our campus. Hear their stories. You’d be amazed how many of our students are supporting their own children, their own parents, trying to break generations of poverty, and on and on all while they master the Liberal Arts or study nursing or take on any of our other rigorous programs.
Free community college is more than a campaign topic. It begs us to contemplate very deeply what public higher education is and what it should be.
I resisted blogging since the beginning of the medium for different reasons at different times.
In tribute to some of those very reasons, I won’t list them all here.
Upon becoming President of SUNY Orange last summer, I decided to embrace Twitter. I figured my phone was always with me, and with several discreet taps and swipes, I could bring students, colleagues, community members, elected officials, and interested others into my days and share a bit of what I was doing, who I was meeting, and what I was celebrating pretty much in real time.
But in recent weeks, it just didn’t feel like enough. It felt like I was reducing noteworthy events to efficient word choices and unexplained photos.
For example: 140 characters can’t capture how we should marvel at students coming to a new student orientation at a community college.
Twice in recent days I had the true honor of welcoming students to SUNY Orange. I made every effort impress upon them the remarkable choice they had made to join a community of learners, to engage in activities that would cause them to go to sleep at night knowing something more than when they woke up or think about something differently than they had that morning.
And I spent even more time telling our new students about the brilliant choice they made in selecting a community college…that their faculty are content experts – advanced degrees everywhere they look. But that these faculty were also experts in sharing that content: that they were equally gifted in helping students becoming content experts themselves. And the staff of community colleges? That they were committed to the belief that all our our students can learn our rigorous curriculum, that they were there to provide services to assist students on that journey. That orientation was mostly about helping students become familiar with those services and letting students know how to engage with those services.
So how did I express this to you on Twitter? “More new @SUNY_Orange students! Welcome!”
I can do better.
I look forward to taking a deeper dive with you on the things that I experience as a community college president, especially here in Orange County. A blog offers a way to interact that Twitter and email and other mediums do not, and I invite your active participation in the comments section.