Open SUNY Will Mark New York’s Push into Online Education

The State University of New York, one of the largest public university systems in the country, is taking a bold step in the area of online education. Announcing the launch of Open SUNY – an online education platform that will be available to all its students – SUNY officials are likewise announcing their goal to become the largest online learning provider in the United States.

Open SUNY will launch next fall and will be immediately available at each of the 64 campuses making up the system. When Chancellor Nancy Zimpher spoke about the initiative, she wasn't modest about what the SUNY leaders hope to achieve. Mainly, they hope to see the number of online undergraduate degree programs offered by SUNYs increase by at least 25%, and anticipate that the number of students enrolled in these programs will triple in the next three years.

At the moment, the colleges and universities don't keep track of the number of people enrolled in online degree programs, but Zimpher hoped to make an estimate available soon.

"No institution in America — not even the for-profits — will be able to match the number of offerings and the quality of instruction," Zimpher said. "In three years, we will enroll 100,000 degree-seeking students in Open SUNY, making us the largest public online provider of education in the nation."

SUNY Board of Trustees Chairman H. Carl McCall, who spoke after Zimpher, said more than just college students will benefit from the growth of online education offerings. He said that this will have an impact of improving life for all New York children, from birth throughout their school years, and even once they begin their careers.

SUNY leaders are not shying away from the challenge the plan presents, he added. On the contrary, New York's public university system has been an innovator from the time of its creation, and remaining in that position means embracing online learning wholeheartedly.

Three online-only degree programs in high-demand careers will be piloted this fall, and another seven will launch in fall 2014.

Zimpher said the degrees will likely be in information technology, engineering, entrepreneurship, business and health care.

"We are trying to match our degree offerings and seats in those programs to the demands, particularly in New York state," she said.

The new program will give students unprecedented flexibility by allowing them to enroll at one campus yet have access to full course offerings of every other. Although each campus will be responsible for its own courses, all of them will be open to students system-wide.

Zimpher expects that the growth of online education will require additional faculty hiring, but expects that the tuition brought in by online students will more than offset the expense.

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