ALBANY – State Department of Education leaders have struggled to communicate or get a response from former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo and his key aides throughout the so-called COVID-19 pandemic that they were awaiting safety guidelines for New York’s schools, they told lawmakers in a hearing Tuesday.
Members of the Assembly’s Higher Education Committee, chaired by Assembly Member Deborah J. Glick, D-Manhattan, on Tuesday interviewed several public education officials in the Legislative Office building in Albany during the chamber hearing on the impact of COVID-19 on the future of higher education.
“We want to understand and explore how the pandemic has changed higher education with respect to education, admissions, enrollments, retention, student life and career services,” said Glick. “We are particularly interested in the need for additional financial assistance, access to mental health services and issues related to food insecurity. And have there been any indications that adult learners are seeking new educational opportunities to find new careers or to upgrade their skills in the jobs they currently hold? “
State Education Commissioner Betty A. Rosa noted the lack of communication from the Cuomo administration and State Department of Health Commissioner Dr Howard A. Zucker regarding the publication of COVID guidelines – or the publication of conflicting guidelines – to the education department throughout the pandemic.
Communication has improved since Governor Kathleen C. Hochul took office on August 24, Rosa said.
Former New York City Health Commissioner Dr. Mary T. Bassett will today become the head of the state’s health department. Rosa said education officials hope transparency continues under Bassett’s leadership.
“We have seen tremendous levels of increased communication in terms of our department and the DOH,” Rosa said. “… It feels like moving the ship in one direction with consistency. “
SED officials continue to have conversations with teachers, administrators and students of varying experience levels to assess distance learning models as opposed to in-person classroom instruction, Rosa said.
Leaving the decision to use one model or the other, or a combined hybrid approach, continues to be the decision of each local school district.
The department will continue to collect information leading up to the 2022-2023 academic year, Rosa said.
“We all know that education is an economic engine,” she said. “This is not an answer (one size fits all). We have found a lot of students who learn really well with the internet or the combination, so we try to put all of this information together.
SED released guidelines in July allowing schools to have flexibility in how they allow students to use technology and distance learning.
“While we thought that students should go back to school, we have allowed districts to make decisions and they continue to have this flexibility to make decisions that are in the best interests of their students, both collectively. and individually, which are compatible with the communities they serve, ”said SED Senior Deputy Commissioner Jim Baldwin.
SED is creating a local higher education planning group to continue the discussions, but will invite additional representatives from the public school system, business community and others who have an interest in the future of state higher education.
NEW YORK STATE UNIVERSITY
State University of New York Chancellor James J. Malatras oversees the 64-campus higher education system which is suffering from an enrollment crisis, like many higher education systems across the country.
Total enrollment at SUNY is down 4.7%, or 18,600 students across its 64 campuses, from fall 2020, according to preliminary fall 2021 enrollment figures. SUNY has 92,386 fewer students than 10 years ago, a variation of 19.7%.
“We think we’ve been overly dependent on tuition fees for the last decade or so, and we think it’s impacting enrollment,” Malatras said in testimony to lawmakers on Tuesday.
Enrollment at SUNY’s 30 community colleges is down 45% after a consecutive decline over the past decade.
Millions of people have changed careers, retired or left the workforce as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, exacerbating the current decline in the student body.
Societal changes have increased the number of SUNY students and part-time professionals aged 25 to 44 looking to expand their skills or change industries.
Malatras on Tuesday underscored the need for the legislature and legislative leaders to continue to make strong investments in the SUNY system as talks on the 2022-2023 fiscal year budget begin, despite registration issues.
“If you invest in SUNY it will pay dividends, and you’ve seen it time and time again,” said Malatras. “Sometimes that’s where you don’t get that investment that you see the spiral increasing… we can’t hire diverse faculty, you can’t get more students from under-represented communities. . But we want to do things differently.
Malatras vowed that SUNY would submit a strong budget request to the Legislature to meet system goals, freeze tuition fees, and fund targeted programs to help with the post-pandemic transition.
Some SUNY Community Colleges can be combined into one facility to reduce competition and costs.
The number of SUNY students applying to work as teachers or education staff fell by around 39% before the pandemic.
“And it’s only growing now,” said Malatras. “Coupled with improved pensions, you are going to see a shortage of teachers in the state and a shortage of nurses grow and grow.”
Mental health, food insecurity, housing and other quality of life issues plagued students during the pandemic. Approximately 34,000 of the approximately 375,600 SUNY students identify as having a disability.
Malatras insisted on the need for a more centralized model so that students have one place to ask for help or get the support they need to be successful in their programs.
Students with disabilities would benefit from more robust individualized learning programs.
SUNY will invest $ 24 million of its federal coronavirus relief to improve system mental health services for students, faculty and staff, Malatras said.
“We are doing a whole series of things to meet the different challenges,” added the Chancellor. “We don’t just focus on one area, we try to meet demand areas where there is demand. We try to keep money in each category.
SUNY’s overall graduation rate is 68% and 74% in educational opportunities programs, which provide students who may not have been admitted access, academic support and assistance financial support to be successful in a degree program.
“If you provide better opportunities for students like the EOP program, they have a better chance of succeeding,” said Malatras.
Racial diversity within the SUNY student body continues to increase. About 27% of SUNY students are underrepresented minorities, up from 19.6% in fall 2011.
Faculty diversity continues to be low and needs to improve to fairly represent the student body, Malatras said.
Assembly Member Mark C. Walczyk, R-Watertown, is a member of the chamber’s higher education committee and listened to and questioned each witness.