Episode 50: Colleges in New York State—Part I

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In recent episodes, we have focused our virtual tour of colleges on the public and private higher education institutions in the Mid-Atlantic region: Maryland, Delaware, the District of Columbia, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania. As we explained then, we put off a look at colleges in New York (which is, of course, part of the Mid-Atlantic region) because we knew that it was the home state of many of our listeners, and we knew that they would be especially interested in it. It is possible that other listeners are also interested in New York State, perhaps because it has more four-year colleges than any other state—about 130.

Virtual tour of public colleges in New York State in NYCollegeChat podcast

Today, we will look at public four-year colleges in New York. They can be found in two massive systems of public higher education, two of the very biggest in the nation: The State University of New York and The City University of New York (located, of course, in the five boroughs of New York City). Plus, there are a couple of special additional public choices we will take a glance at.

And, as we say every time, no college—not even one in our home state—has asked us or paid us anything to include it. These are our own choices.

1. The State University of New York

Founded in 1948 with the consolidation of 29 existing higher education institutions, The State University of New York (commonly referred to as SUNY) is, in fact, the largest comprehensive university system in the U.S. Currently, SUNY comprises 64 institutions, almost half of which (30) are community colleges. Here is an interesting fact: “93 percent of New Yorkers live within 15 miles of a SUNY campus, and nearly 100 percent live within 30 miles” (quoted from the website). And here is another: “One out of three New York State high school graduates choose SUNY, and the total enrollment of nearly 463,000 full-time and part-time students represents 37 percent of New York State’s higher education student population” (quoted from the website).

Now, during our virtual tour, we have talked a fair amount about how New York State really doesn’t have a flagship university that high school students in the state are dying to attend—not in the same way as Texas or Ohio or Mississippi or North Carolina or lots of other states in the South and Midwest especially. But we have also talked a fair amount about how 70 percent or so of high school students stay in their home state for college. So, one of three New York high school students chooses a SUNY campus—and that doesn’t count those who choose a public City University of New York campus or a private college in the state.

Students can apply to most SUNY campuses by completing one online application and submitting all of their documents just once. SUNY advises students to apply by December 1 to ensure optimal financial aid, degree program choice, and campus housing.

Four University Centers. SUNY has four “university centers.” They are perhaps SUNY’s idea of four flagship-like campuses. The four are Stony Brook University on Long Island, Binghamton University in upstate New York, the University at Buffalo, and the University at Albany. I think that most New Yorkers would argue that Stony Brook and Binghamton are the two top universities in the SUNY system. So, let’s start with Stony Brook, which is located on a large rural-like campus in the far-out suburbs about 60 miles east of New York City, easily accessible by the reliable Long Island Rail Road.

Founded in 1957 to educate secondary school teachers of science and math, Stony Brook was directed by the State Board of Regents in 1960 to become an institution that would “stand with the finest in the country”—perhaps the Board of Regents’ idea of a flagship university. Today, it offers about 17,000 undergraduates and about 8,500 graduate and professional students 68 undergraduate degree programs and more than 140 graduate degree programs in its colleges and schools of arts and sciences, business, engineering and applied sciences, journalism (the only undergraduate school of journalism in a public New York university), marine and atmospheric sciences, social welfare, nursing, health technology and management, dental medicine, and medicine. It is well known and respected for its science, engineering, and medical programs, and it co-manages Brookhaven National Laboratory, a federal research laboratory. Stony Brook is one of the universities of choice for bright New York City students who are looking to attend a public college for financial reasons. About 25 percent of its undergraduates are Asian.

Stony Brook’s first-year students are assigned to one of six “Undergraduate Colleges,” which are organized around themes of interest to students: Arts, Culture, and Humanities; Global Studies; Human Development; Information and Technology Studies; Leadership and Service; and Science and Society. Students in each Undergraduate College receive “customized advising and support, special educational and social programs, and opportunities for close interaction with faculty and fellow students around themes of common interest. Both commuter and residential students are welcomed into College life. First-year resident members of each College are housed together in the same residential quadrangle.” (quoted from the website) With two freshman seminars and a host of educational and social activities, these Undergraduate Colleges help freshmen adjust to life at a university with 17,000 undergraduate students. Like other SUNY campuses, undergraduates are required to take a broad array of liberal arts and sciences courses to satisfy general education distribution requirements.

Like most major universities, Stony Brook offers a variety of study abroad opportunities and 20 varsity sports teams. And, of course, there are plenty of activities on campus, though my understanding is that some students who live on Long Island or in New York City go home on weekends.

Stony Brook’s incoming freshmen this fall posted average SAT scores in the mid-600s for mathematics and about 600 for critical reading and writing. Their average high school GPA was about a 3.8. Almost 90 percent of Stony Brook’s recent graduates are either employed or enrolled in graduate or professional school—a good record for a public university.

Binghamton University is in the relatively small upstate New York suburb of Vestal. Established in 1946 to serve the educational needs of World War II veterans, Binghamton was originally a branch of private Syracuse University and became a part of SUNY four years later. Today it offers about 13,500 undergraduates and about 3,500 graduate and professional students studies in seven schools and colleges: arts and sciences, community and public affairs, nursing, management, engineering and applied science, and education (graduate students only). A new graduate School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences will open in 2018.

About 20 percent of its undergraduates stay at Binghamton to earn a graduate degree. Almost 70 percent of undergraduates earn their degrees in the Harpur College of Arts and Sciences, the oldest college at Binghamton. Like Stony Brook, Binghamton has broad liberal arts and sciences general education requirements for its undergraduate students.

Binghamton fields 21 varsity sports teams and offers a lot of outdoor recreational activities in nearby state parks. It is one of 16 colleges to earn “the highest score on The Princeton Review’s annual ‘green rating’ for campus environmentally-related policies, practices and academic offerings” (quoted from the website).

Binghamton’s incoming freshmen last fall posted average SAT scores in the mid-600s for mathematics and just a bit lower for critical reading and writing. Their average high school GPA was about a 3.6.

If students prefer a more urban location, then either the University at Buffalo or the University at Albany might be preferable to Binghamton and Stony Brook. Undergraduate enrollment at Buffalo is the highest of the four university centers at about 20,000 students, while undergraduate enrollment at Albany is the lowest at about 13,000 students. So these are all substantial universities, which would seem really big to any freshman—albeit nothing close to the largest of the flagship universities we have talked about earlier in our virtual tour. Incoming freshman SAT scores are just a bit lower at Buffalo and Albany, which might put them in reach of more students.

In-state tuition and fees at the university centers run a remarkably reasonable $9,000 per year, with out-of-state tuition and fees at about $22,000 to $24,000.

Specialized Institutions. There are three specialized SUNY institutions worth a quick mention, even though they will likely be of interest only to a limited audience:

  • “The College of Environmental Science and Forestry (ESF) is . . . focused on the science, design, engineering and management of natural resources and the environment. [It] offers 23 undergraduate and 30 graduate degree programs . . . . Students study at the Syracuse campus and on 25,000 acres of property throughout New York State. ESF also offers numerous opportunities to study abroad. Career-related internships provide invaluable work experience and can often pave the way to permanent positions after graduation. ESF’s special relationship with neighboring Syracuse University provides ESF students with access to selected SU courses, student services and activities.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) ESF serves just about 1,700 undergraduate students.
  • “Founded in 1874, Maritime College [is the] oldest and largest maritime school in the country. . . .   [It] is located in historic Fort Schuyler, [the]Bronx. . . . Maritime offers undergraduate programs in engineering, naval architecture, marine transportation, maritime studies, marine environmental science and international transportation and trade. . . .       Maritime students may pursue a U.S. Coast Guard License. These students participate in Maritime’s structured Regiment of Cadets, as well as summer sea terms aboard the Empire State VI training ship. There is no military obligation for Maritime graduates unless they choose to participate in one of four ROTC programs. Graduates enjoy a nearly 100% career placement rate and earn some of the nation’s highest average starting salaries.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) Maritime serves just about 1,600 undergraduate students.
  • “The Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) is . . . a renowned college of art and design, business and technology, with more than 40 degree programs. Majors span a wide range of fields, from photography and toy design to international trade and cosmetics and fragrance marketing.       Each major includes a full liberal arts education. A faculty of academics and working professionals integrates hands-on teaching with real-world expertise, and industry connections provide unrivaled internship and career opportunities.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website)       FIT is located in the heart of Manhattan in New York City and serves about 9,500 undergraduate students.

Any of these three colleges could be the right choice for a student who is interested in these specialized fields of study. And, while we said that Maritime and Environmental Science and Forestry serve only about 1,600 to 1,700 undergraduates—making them quite small by SUNY standards—remember that we have talked about quite a few colleges, especially small private colleges, that are a lot smaller than that.

Two Comprehensive Colleges. When talking about the state public higher education systems in other states on our virtual tour, we have typically talked only about individual colleges that we thought were attractive enough to draw out-of-state students away from the public colleges in their own state in order to attend them. That is a high standard, I think. I am not sure that any of the many other SUNY campuses are sufficiently attractive to do that, but let us mention two that might be. Both are well known here in the southern part of the state and are certainly better known regionally than nationally: SUNY New Paltz and SUNY Purchase.

Founded in 1828 as the New Paltz Classical School (teaching Latin, Greek, reading, writing, and arithmetic to local children), SUNY New Paltz became a normal school for training teachers and was one of the founding institutions of the SUNY system. It is located in a small town about 90 minutes north of New York City in the picturesque Hudson River Valley, with lots of nearby outdoor activities that draw vacationers from all over. A popular campus that typically receives more than 14,000 applications for 1,100 slots, New Paltz admits freshmen that are good students, academically on par with the University at Albany. This fall, about 93 percent of New Paltz freshmen were New York residents.

New Paltz offers its approximately 6,500 undergraduates a choice of 105 majors across five schools/colleges: liberal arts and sciences (the largest of the schools/colleges), education, business, fine and performing arts, and science and engineering. As we have already said about SUNY campuses, undergraduates are required to complete a general education core, covering a broad array of arts and sciences fields. New Paltz undergraduates take about 12 to 14 courses, more in the arts than in the sciences. New Paltz also serves about 1,000 graduate students.

New Paltz fields 15 varsity sports teams and sponsors over 200 student organizations. It offers students a full-fledged campus life in what many people consider an idyllic setting.

SUNY Purchase (also known as Purchase College) is located just outside New York City in suburban Westchester County. It was founded in 1967 by Governor Nelson Rockefeller to “combine on one campus conservatory training in the visual and performing arts with programs in the liberal arts and sciences” (quoted from the website). Today, within its School of Liberal Arts and Sciences (where about 65 percent of Purchase students study), it has schools of film and media studies, humanities, and natural and social sciences. Within its School of the Arts (where about 35 percent of Purchase students study), it has a School of Art + Design and conservatories of dance, music, and theatre art (including its own dance company and its own theatre repertory company); it also offers a bachelor’s degree in arts management and a master’s degree in entrepreneurship in the arts. In total, Purchase offers about 47 bachelor’s degree majors—six of which are in music (one in production, two in composition, and three in performance)! These arts degree programs make Purchase a truly unique public opportunity for about 4,500 undergraduate students and just over 100 graduate students.

In addition to its dancers, Purchase fields 17 varsity sports teams. It offers a variety of special housing options, including freshman-year housing, conservatory floors, and residential learning communities built around themes (e.g., psychology and social justice, spirituality and society, leadership). Freshmen admitted to Purchase this fall had SAT subtest scores averaging in the mid-500s and a high school GPA of about a 3.1. So that puts it in range of just-above-average students. Of course, those students applying to the arts programs must meet audition or portfolio standards, too.

In-state tuition and fees at the comprehensive colleges run about $7,500 per year, with out-of-state costs at about $17,500—so, a bit lower than the university centers and, again, a great price.

Four Undergraduate Statutory Colleges. SUNY also has four colleges housed at two universities that are, otherwise, private. They are the New York State College of Ceramics at Alfred University and Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, and College of Human Ecology (that is, three of Cornell’s seven undergraduate colleges/schools). Let’s take a quick look:

  • Since 1900, the NYS College of Ceramics at Alfred University has blended visual fine arts, design and the science of ceramics, glass and materials. It is . . . home to the School of Art & Design and the Inamori School of Engineering. These high quality, internationally known programs offer opportunities for small classes and individual attention at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. . . . The School of Art & Design, with BFA, BS (Art History) and MFA programs, works with internationally acclaimed artists in one of the nation’s finest art facilities. The Inamori School of Engineering, with BS, MS, and PhD programs, educates over one-third of all ceramic engineering graduates in the U.S. and is one of 10 centers for advanced research in New York.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) The College serves just about 600 undergraduates with these very special interests and talents.
  • Cornell’s “School of Industrial and Labor Relations is the only undergraduate school of its kind in the U.S. The ILR School has a unique program that uses the social sciences to examine the full range of ‘people’ issues faced in the workplace. ILR provides preparation for leadership positions in business, law, politics, social justice and public policy. The ILR curriculum provides a strong liberal arts foundation through classes in economics, sociology, psychology, history, law and statistics. From there, students can develop their special interests in a number of areas including management, law, human resources, dispute resolution, employee relations, labor economics, organizational behavior and international labor rights.” (quoted from the SUNY website) The ILR School serves just about 1,000 undergraduates.
  • Cornell’s “College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (CALS) . . . is the only college of agriculture and life sciences in the Ivy League and the second largest college at Cornell. The college is committed to research, education and outreach [and] . . . offers over 20 majors, all focusing on the four college priorities: Life Sciences, Applied Social Sciences, Environmental Sciences and Agriculture and Food. Undergraduates have the chance to use their skills and knowledge to answer some of the world’s most pressing social, economic and scientific challenges.” (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) The College serves about 3,500 undergraduates, who enjoy an enviable 7:1 student-to-faculty ratio.
  • Cornell’s “College of Human Ecology . . .       examines human life from a scientific, social and aesthetic perspective. By blending academic disciplines with a global point of view, students and faculty use their knowledge to explore and develop solutions to contemporary human issues. Students explore liberal arts disciplines including biology, chemistry, economics, psychology and sociology, and apply their knowledge in fields such as health, design, nutrition, public policy and marketing.       Students are prepared for medical, law or other graduate programs, and for careers in business, education, communications or other fields of health and human services.”       (excerpted and quoted from the SUNY website) The College serves about 1,250 undergraduates.

We will hear a bit more about Cornell next week when we turn to private colleges in New York State.

2. The City University of New York

Today’s extraordinary City University of New York (CUNY), with a total of 24 two-year, four-year, and graduate campuses serving over a quarter of a million degree students, began as the Free Academy, with about 200 students in 1849. It became The College of the City of New York in 1866. The all-female, free Normal College of the City of New York, which became Hunter College, was established in 1870. CUNY has a long and fascinating history, full of political battles and fights over free tuition and outreach to New York City’s many immigrant populations as they arrived decade after decade. The website notes that in “the post-World War I era when discrimination against Jews was common at Ivy League universities and other private educational institutions, many Jewish students and academics found their intellectual home at New York’s public colleges, where ethnicity, religion and national background barred no one” (quoted from the website). City College became known as the “Harvard of the Proletariat.” In 1961, CUNY was formed from the public college campuses that had sprung up to serve New York City’s growing population in all five boroughs.

The 11 four-year colleges, which cover all five boroughs, have their own histories and their own identities. Though most are best known in New York City, a few have enjoyed a somewhat wider reputation. High school students in New York City can generally get decent advice from high school counselors about their CUNY options (indeed, I believe that these are the higher education options that New York City high school counselors know best). But for those of you outside the City who are intrigued by life in the big city and who might be interested in taking a look at a CUNY college, here are four that you might consider:

  • The City College of New York (CCNY), located in upper Manhattan on a lovely campus with buildings designated as landmarks, is the flagship college of the CUNY system. Its founder, Townsend Harris, said this: “Open the doors to all. Let the children of the rich and the poor take their seats together and know of no distinction save that of industry, good conduct, and intellect” (1847). Today, it boasts schools of architecture, education, and engineering; humanities, arts, and science divisions; the Colin Powell School for Civic and Global Leadership; and the highly respected Sophie Davis School of Biomedical Education. CCNY enrolls about 13,000 undergraduate students and another approximately 3,000 graduate students.
  • Hunter College is located on the Upper East Side in Manhattan; it’s in a great part of town, but has no campus to speak of. It is CUNY’s largest college, with a total enrollment of about 23,000 students. In its six schools, Hunter offers liberal arts and sciences majors to its undergraduate and graduate students as well as professional programs in nursing, health professions, urban public health, education, and social work. Today, its students come from more than 150 countries and speak about 150 languages. Many are first-generation college-goers.
  • Baruch College, located on the site of the Free Academy in downtown Manhattan, is noted for its business programs. It is named for alumnus Bernard M. Baruch, financier and statesman. It offers its approximately 12,500 undergraduates a choice of 23 majors in its three schools: business, arts and sciences, and public affairs. Baruch also serves about 3,000 graduate students. Its students come from more than 120 countries and speak more than 110 languages.
  • Queens College, located on an attractive campus in a residential neighborhood of Flushing in the borough of Queens, is one of the larger CUNY colleges, serving more than 20,000 undergraduate and graduate students from more than 150 countries. Founded in 1937, it offers a broad and deep liberal arts and sciences curriculum with over 140 undergraduate and graduate majors in four divisions: education, mathematics and natural sciences, social sciences, and arts and humanities (including the Aaron Copland School of Music, which offers three music degrees). Queens graduates more teachers than any other college in the tri-state area, and more than half of Queens undergraduates go on to pursue graduate degrees.

This year’s freshman class at the four colleges we just profiled had average high school GPAs from 88 to 90 (on a 100-point scale) and average SAT composite scores in critical reading and mathematics from about 1160 to 1260.

CUNY’s prestigious Macaulay Honors College is a highly selective college that enrolls undergraduates on eight of the four-year CUNY campuses. Macaulay students take classes at their home campus, but also meet together at the Macaulay building in Manhattan for lectures and other activities. Macaulay students receive a full scholarship and a laptop. But there is an early December 1 deadline, so move quickly if you are interested. This year’s freshman class posted an average high school GPA of 94 (on a 100-point scale) and an average SAT composite score in critical reading and mathematics of about 1400.

Of course, students can join student organizations and play on varsity sports teams at CUNY colleges, though I think it is unlikely that students who are seriously committed to varsity athletics would make CUNY their first choice.

Students can apply to as many as six CUNY colleges with one application and one application fee (though some colleges and some special programs have supplemental requirements, such as additional essays). We believe that, for very good students, one or more of these four-year CUNY colleges can serve as a reasonable safety school during the college application process. We do not believe that it makes sense for very good students to apply to a less prestigious private college as a safety school when they would likely be better off academically and financially at one of the good CUNY four-year colleges.

The CUNY colleges are quite inexpensive for New York City residents and qualified New York State residents—from about $4,500 in tuition per year for a two-year CUNY campus to about $6,000 in tuition per year for a four-year CUNY campus.

3. Paying for College in New York State

When Marie and I attended the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s college fair in New York City last April, we spoke with Michael Turner from the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation, who recorded this information for NYCollegeChat. (Be sure to listen to it in our recorded episode.)

4. Military Service Academies

New York State is home to two of the five military service academies: the U.S. Military Academy (commonly referred to as West Point) and the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy (USMMA), located in King’s Point on Long Island. These are public institutions, of course, funded by the federal government. Students pay no tuition or room and board, though they do incur an obligation to serve after graduation, as we have discussed in other episodes.

Let’s look briefly at the USMMA, which I think we probably know less about:

[USMMA] educates and graduates licensed Merchant Marine officers of exemplary character who serve America’s marine transportation and defense needs in peace and war. With 95 percent of the world’s products transported over water, these leaders are vital to the effective operation of our merchant fleet for both commercial and military transport during war and peace….

Known for its rigorous academic program, USMMA requires more credit hours for a baccalaureate degree than any other Federal service academy.  This challenging coursework is augmented by the Academy’s Sea year experience, which affords midshipmen the opportunity to acquire hands-on, real-world experiences aboard working commercial vessels sailing to ports around the world.  Midshipmen who master this demanding curriculum earn a unique combination of credentials:

A highly regarded Bachelor of Science degree

A U.S. Coast Guard license

An officer’s commission in the U.S. Armed Forces

For this reason, Academy graduates are highly sought after as officers in the military and the merchant marine.  This merchant fleet of efficient and productive commercial ships owned by U.S. companies and registered and operated under the American flag, forms an essential part of our domestic and international transportation system….

All graduates have a service obligation upon graduation…

Five years in the United States maritime industry, with eight years of service as an officer in any reserve unit of the armed forces

Or five years active duty in any of the nation’s armed forces.

In time of war or national emergency, the U.S. Merchant Marine becomes vital to national security as a ‘fourth arm of defense.’ Our merchant ships bear the brunt of delivering military troops, supplies and equipment overseas to our forces and allies, operating as an auxiliary unit to the Navy. (quoted from the website)

Students at the USMMA take a core curriculum of liberal arts and sciences courses before choosing one of five majors in marine transportation and marine engineering.

To be eligible to join the approximately 950 young men and women at the USMMA, students must have a minimum SAT score of 560 on both the critical reading and mathematics subtests and must have taken an academically rigorous high school program. Students must also secure a nomination from a member of the U.S. Senate or House of Representatives from his or her home state. Such nominations should be sought ideally in May of the junior year of high school.

West Point was founded in 1802 and is located just north of New York City on the Hudson River. Its cadets choose from 40 academic majors that cover a broad array of disciplines—including American politics; art, philosophy and literature; foreign languages; history; sociology; management; and psychology; as well as the engineering and sciences you might expect. Throughout their four years, cadets take physical education courses (with their grades averaged into their GPAs) and are required to participate in competitive sports. And then there are the military skills:

“The heart of the military training takes place during the summer. The basic Soldier skills of rifle marksmanship, land navigation, and close combat are but the underpinnings of each cadet’s initial training the first summer; by graduation every cadet has participated in small-unit leadership training; attended military schools such as Airborne and Air Assault; served as senior leadership to junior cadets’ summer training; and interned . . . in active duty units across the globe.” (quoted from the website)

Average SAT scores of the incoming class of cadets were 608 in writing, 627 in critical reading, and 645 in mathematics. About 70 percent ranked in the top fifth of their high school graduating class. Of the approximately 4,000 high school students who were nominated by their Congressional representative, their U.S. Senator, or the Vice President of the U.S., only about 1,250 were accepted.

Here is what a West Point graduate can expect:

“Upon graduation, you will be commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army and serve for five years on active duty (if you choose to depart the Army after five years, you will be required to serve three years in the Inactive Ready Reserve (IRR)). During your senior year, you’ll find out which specialized field, or “branch,” you will enter. Both the needs of the Army and your preferences will be considered.

In your first year after graduation, you’ll attend a Basic Officer Leader Course for general information and training. Upon its successful completion, you then take branch-specific courses to become competent in the technical aspects of your specialty.

Next, you’ll be sent to an Army unit where you will build experience in troop command for the next three years. You might lead a Military Police unit, a small artillery fire support team, or a Military Intelligence unit, for example.” (quoted from the website)

That is quite a bit of service—but also quite a bit of education and training. All free.

Listen to the podcast to find out about…

  • Streamlined applications processes for SUNY and CUNY colleges
  • Guaranteed admission to SUNY and CUNY colleges
  • New York State funds available for covering New York State college costs

Check out these higher education institutions and organizations we mention…

In New York State

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