ANOTHER VIEW: COLLEGE DEGREE IS MUCH MORE THAN A PIECE OF PAPER

9/11/2015

Opinion of Three Hudson Valley Community College Presidents, Including SUNY Orange's Dr. Kristine Young, Appears in Friday, Sept. 11 Edition of the Times Herald-Record; Submitted in Response to Sept. 1 Column Written by Reporter Timothy Malcolm

"A College Degree Doesn't Guarantee a Fruitful Life" column by Timothy Malcolm

Three Presidents' Response (link to this article as it appears in the Record)

By Dr. Kristine Young, Dr. Karin Hilgersom and Dr. Alan Roberts

PHOTO: Dr. Kristine YoungIn his Sept. 1 opinion column, Timothy Malcolm wrote that “a college degree doesn’t guarantee a fruitful life.” As the presidents of SUNY Orange, SUNY Sullivan and SUNY Ulster, we find that statement stunning in its fallacy (can anything really guarantee a fruitful life?).

We vigorously challenge his assertion on behalf of our remarkable institutions and the talented professors and employees who dedicate themselves daily to educating and supporting students. Moreover, we disagree on behalf of our students, most of whom come to us seeking to become productive citizens and valuable contributors to society. While they may not quite know how to achieve those goals, we help them discover the best path for them individually, and we are proud of the work we do.

We are also troubled by Mr. Malcolm’s apparent lack of understanding as to what community colleges do. In short, we prepare much of our nation’s workforce through career and technical education and we equip students to transfer to colleges and universities to pursue advanced degrees. But our missions are much more comprehensive, and we would argue that college degrees aren’t just about the fruit of one’s life, such degrees are about building a fruitful society.

One of the many things that make community colleges special is that we are “open access” institutions. We enroll students so long as they have a high school diploma or its equivalent. The most dangerous misinterpretation of community colleges, however, is that we provide lower quality education. The framework of our broad-based general education serves students well as they move into the specialized instruction of their chosen field of study.

All students must ultimately demonstrate a high level of competence, often in complex and technical fields, in order to earn a degree or transfer. The specialization required to earn a degree does not “decrease the odds of living a more fruitful adult life,” as Mr. Malcolm asserts, rather it provides the skills that future recipients of the graduate’s expertise will expect.

The students who come through our doors are to be commended. Many are likely to be first generation students, from a low socioeconomic status, disabled, and/or financially responsible for themselves or their family. They tend to be employed for more hours per week than students in other sectors of higher education. Yet we hold these students to the same high academic standards as our four-year sister institutions through a variety of ever-changing teaching strategies and support services.

All three of our SUNY campuses advocate service to the community. We support many student organizations, athletic teams, cultural experiences and internships that also allow students to expand their horizons outside of the classroom. It is under these circumstances that students gain their greatest understanding of society, develop compassion for others and recognize connections between their career and their community. For the majority of our learners, this change in perspective is truly transformative.

We believe, in stark contrast to Mr. Malcolm, that college is indeed the great equalizer and a solid stepping stone to a healthy and happy life. Community colleges provide opportunities for citizens of all ages to challenge themselves, pursue lifelong learning and advance their careers. Along the way, they truly grow emotionally and socially as well. On our campuses here in the Hudson Valley, and on thousands like ours across this great land, lives are changed for the better each and every day. We’ve each watched countless students and graduates become fruitful adults right before our eyes.

We should not be spurning higher education, but rather embracing ways in which more of us can partake in it.

Dr. Kristine Young is president of SUNY Orange; Dr. Karin Hilgersom is president of SUNY Sullivan and Dr. Alan Roberts is president of SUNY Ulster.


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Mike Albright
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