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SUNY chancellor talks investments, community partnerships

One of Kristina M. Johnson's main priorities in 2019 will be to grow SUNY's online programs, helping to individualize learning and create partnerships between schools in the system.

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson addresses guests during

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson addresses guests during an executive breakfast hosted by the Long Island Association in Melville on Thursday. Photo Credit: Johnny Milano

SUNY Chancellor Kristina M. Johnson, speaking with business leaders from across Long Island on Thursday, stressed the importance of partnerships between the academic and business communities.

“We will be there for the community, and the community will be there for us through thick and thin,” Johnson, who heads the 64-campus state university system, told the approximately 100 business and education leaders at the legislative breakfast. The event was hosted by the region's largest business group, the Long Island Association, a nonprofit headquartered in Melville.

The speech comes a week before Johnson’s State of the University address on Jan. 31 in Albany, where she will lay out her 2019 agenda for the 430,000-student system, which includes five  schools on the Island — Farmingdale State College, SUNY Old Westbury, Stony Brook University and Nassau and Suffolk community colleges. More than 43,400 students are enrolled at the Island's two community colleges and more than 41,200 students at the three, four-year schools, according to fall 2018 data.

Johnson provided a preview of her priorities, which include increasing private and philanthropic partnerships and investments for innovation and entrepreneurship. She also announced plans to invest in artificial intelligence programs.

One of her main priorities will be to grow SUNY’s online programs, helping to individualize learning and create partnerships between schools in the system, she said. A number of new online programs will begin in the fall, Johnson said.

The system also plans to launch the PRODI-G (Promoting Recruitment, Opportunity, Diversity, Inclusion and Growth) program, which Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo included in his 2019-20 executive budget earlier this month. The program would provide financial and recruiting support to allow for the hiring of 1,000 underrepresented, minority faculty over the next decade.

Johnson also stressed the need to continue pushing the State Legislature to put in place a funding floor for community colleges, whose state aid is based on enrollment. Community college enrollment typically increases when the economy is doing poorly, and decreases when it’s doing well, she said. A more stable funding formula would not only provide the colleges with more predictability, but also help them invest in new programs to meet workforce needs, she said.

SUNY is a major employer and economic driver on the Island, said Kevin Law, association president and chief executive.

“I think we need to look at education now as something that just continues in one person’s life,” Law said after the event. “As our colleges become more flexible with their programs, it allows workers at different stages of their lives to go back for some retraining, or some additional education. I think as they become more flexible, that will benefit our employees here on Long Island.”

Johnson, an engineer, entrepreneur and inventor, began leading the system in September 2017 as its 13th chancellor, succeeding Nancy L. Zimpher.

She was founder and chief executive of Cube Hydro Partners LLC, which operates hydroelectric generation facilities on rivers in five states, including New York. Currently, she is a senior adviser to the company.

She served as undersecretary of energy with the U.S. Department of Energy during the Obama administration from 2009 to 2010. Before that, she was provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Johns Hopkins University, dean of the Pratt School of Engineering at Duke University, and professor at the University of Colorado-Boulder.

“I think the fact that the chancellor is an engineer and has private-sector work experience as well will be very helpful as we try to identify the labor needs that we have here on Long Island, and how the SUNY colleges can help . . . train the future workers for Long Island,” Law said. 

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