New York’s Open SUNY Sets Ambitious Online Education Goals

The State University of New York has launched an expansion of its online degree curricula and is set to lead the nation in offering public higher education to students worldwide.

While paying the same tuition as that of students in traditional campus settings, New York residents, out-of-state and international students can earn the same degrees over the Internet through “Open SUNY”.

“Online education is arguably the hottest topic of the day, but I want to be clear: This isn’t about SUNY being trendy. It is about making sure New Yorkers have the educational opportunities they need to be successful in the 21st-century economy,” SUNY Chancellor Nancy L. Zimpher said in introducing the initiative during her fourth “State of the University” address.

First announced last year, the initiative debuts with eight fully online degrees, including a bachelor of science in electrical engineering offered by Stony Brook University. SUNY is among several state university systems across the nation to expand access to nontraditional and underserved students, boost college completion rates and contain higher education costs using online degrees.

By enrolling 465,000 students across 64 campuses, New York has one of the largest public university systems in the country. With Open SUNY, officials are primarily trying to reach nontraditional students — including the 6.9 million adults in the state who have a high school diploma but no college degree.

“New York is leading the way in terms of online public education. There are a number of private schools who have been doing this, but they [SUNY officials] are certainly leaders by making it possible for someone to get a degree through online programs,” said Darrell West, vice president of governance studies at the Washington, D.C.-based Brookings Institution and author of the 2012 book “Digital Schools”.

West said that little data exists about completion rates for online degrees through public universities. He also added that Massively Open Online Courses, or MOOCs, usually private ventures that offer free courses taught by some top-tier university professors, have a completion rate of only 5-10%, and through MOOCs students do not earn a degree.

As Candice Ferrette of Newsday reports, more than 12,000 courses and 150 degree programs are being offered online by SUNY. According to Zimpher, the degrees coming online this month through Open SUNY will have the added benefit of 24-hour student technical support, tutoring services and faculty training.

Officials could not say how much was spent on Open SUNY’s expansion. However, they said that the goal is to enroll 100,000 students in the program over the next three years with the business model to be self-sustaining through tuition revenue. Zimpher believes that in September, more fully-online degrees will roll out.

“We are joining forces with our colleagues at Binghamton University and the University at Buffalo to make a difference,” said Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., Stony Brook University’s president. “We look forward to implementation of Open SUNY, a worthy and timely initiative led by Chancellor Zimpher. This is truly an exciting time to be involved in higher education in New York State.”