SARATOGA SPRINGS - Local College Brings Experience In Online Education To Statewide Open SUNY
Laptop underarm, coffee in hand, homework and encroaching deadline on the mind, State University of New York’s (SUNY) Empire State College is leading the way to expand SUNY’s online education program catering to nontraditional students who juggle responsibilities between family and work.
SUNY Empire State College will be taking the lead in SUNY's online initiative, Open SUNY, to offer an option for college-level courses to the 6.9 million individuals in New York that have a high school diploma but no higher education. The need for malleable class schedules that can be bent around a daily work schedule was a point in Chancellor Nancy Zimpher’s State of the University Address earlier in January when she said that of the job opportunities in 2050, 60 percent of them will require a bachelor’s degree.
In terms of Open SUNY, David Henahan, director of communications at Empire State College, said that the online system is a response to individuals who would like to continue education and get a degree but cannot because many of them are unable to study in the traditional setting.
“What we are experiencing is the demand from people for a more innovative way of learning,” he said. “The population is aging, and there are more adults in the market looking to gain more education for all sorts of reasons.”
Before Open SUNY, adult students have been balancing life's responsibilities with their studies at Empire State College for over two decades through Open SUNY Plus. Busy with work and study was never easy, but the college’s online administrative and teaching experience and the state-wide online degree initiative Open SUNY is expected to make higher education more accessible.
“We know that an individual with a bachelor's degree will earn approximately a million more in their lifetime compared to a high school graduate,” Henahan said. “So that learning will help an individual get a better job, broaden the tax base, and get more money.”
Open SUNY will host eight online degrees as well as online courses that originate from its 64 campuses across the state using a common set of online tools. Two of these degrees are coming from Empire State College as part of the initiative's initial rollout. One of the degree programs will be a bachelor’s in business, management and economics: human resources; and, the other, a bachelor’s in science, mathematics and technology: information systems.
Empire State College currently offers approximately 400 undergraduate and 100 graduate online courses. The average ages of its online undergraduate and graduate population are 35 and 40 years old, respectively.
“These people have lives, a family, building a career; so, they need school around their life,” Henahan said. “People across the country are looking to learn much differently and that learning has value. They don’t have the time and money to sit through it again. It is a convergence through which Empire State (College) and Open SUNY is all about. There's real demand.”
Today, about half of Empire State College’s 20,000 students study online, and many of the college’s 70,000 alumni have earned their associate, bachelor’s and master’s degrees online, according to a press release of Empire State College.
Sandra Barkevich, Instructural Support Assistant at Empire State College, returned to school in 2010. She had a full-time job and two young children that were, and still are, involved in extracurricular activities in addition to participating on the Amsterdam Sea Rams swim team.
“Between work and getting the kids to swim practice five nights a week, going to a traditional school was out of the question,” Barkevich said. “Like so many other adults returning to college, I had to think outside of the box. Empire State College not only had a stellar reputation, but they were backed by SUNY. I could take courses on my own terms, and 'attend' classes when I was able to fit it into my busy schedule, even if that 'free' time happened to be at 10:30 p.m. after the kids were fast asleep or 4:30 a.m. before my husband and I had to get the kids up and ready for school.”
Barkevich understood that returning to school would be an additional commitment, vying for time and attention; however, advancing in her job was not going to happen without a bachelor's degree, she said. With her family's support, she began her Bachelor of Science, Business and Economics degree through the Center for Distance Learning. After graduating from the program, she is now pursuing aMaster of Arts in Learning and Emerging Technologies program in the School for Graduate Studiesalso online.
“I loved my job and the company I was with, but could not see myself in the exact same position for the next 15-20 years, and it was clear that the only way to be considered for advancement would be to have a four-year degree,” Barkevich said. “So, I talked it over with my husband, who has been incredibly supportive, and with my kids, who were only nine and seven at the time, and made the decision to pursue a bachelor's degree.”
A similar motivation for pursuing a full-fledged online track in addition to being able wrap class lectures around a busy or unique schedule is for people who have been out of school for a number of years, is the possibility of customizing a learning atmosphere conducive to study.
To further explain, Mike Capobianco, now a graduate student at Long Island University, had not been in a classroom setting for almost ten years before returning at age 26. The thought of sitting in a lecture hall of students who were eight years younger was not appealing to him. In addition to that, Capobianco has anxiety. The ability to avoid a few sleepless nights and construct a suitable, calming environment either by himself or with others closer in age helped stop what might have ‘ended in disaster’ if he had chosen to enroll as a traditional student.
“Either I would have done bad in the classes or dropped out completely,” Capobianco said. “Instead, with the online studies, I was able to thrive, graduate with a 3.73 GPA and land a job that gave me health insurance. With that health insurance, I was able to see a doctor who has been successfully treating my anxiety, which has allowed me to attend graduate school in person, with no issues.”
As New York’s Department of Labor continues to coordinate with SUNY, more is looking to be done about addressing workforce needs and interests. Additional plans for the Empire State College’s initiative is to create more opportunities for students to gain college credit for job-related programs through the college’s business partnerships.